Canadian poet Price turns to fiction with this lively visitation to the foggy streets of Victorian Blighty.
“Water in the cracks, water shimmering like mercury at the edges of the light-fall. There were streaks of black moss growing on the walls where moisture trickled.” Atmospheric: that just begins to describe this overstuffed, long, but swiftly paced novel, which works from a promising premise, in which the already famed private detective William Pinkerton, late of the Civil War and capable of striking fear in the heart of every wrongdoer in America, finds himself in London on the trail of a slippery con man with the suggestive name of Edward Shade. Shade’s more than just a bilko; the tentacles of his criminal enterprise extend everywhere, and somehow they’ve wrapped themselves around a woman with “small sharp teeth, long white fingers, a voice low and vicious and lovely.” Charlotte Reckitt has a past piled on a past, only a bit of which overlaps with that of Adam Foole, a fine gentleman blessed of “glowing catlike stare” now newly entangled in Charlotte’s web once again. Pinkerton, Foole, and a “giant” named Japheth Flood form an unlikely alliance and sally forth to ferret out Shade and Reckitt, each for his own reasons, in the dripping streets and sewers of a decidedly Dickensian London. Price serves up a whodunit that’s sometimes a little faltering of plot but long on lyricism: “He sipped his port and William watched the morning light flare and fracture in the cut glass but he himself did not drink and he held the delicate glass between his thick fingers feeling rough and tired.” In the end, the story is utterly Sherlock-ian—read Moriarty for Shade and Irene Adler for Reckitt—and postmodernly so, full of sly nods and winks and allusions. If it is derivative in the bargain, Conan Doyle by way of Nicholas Meyer and Benedict Cumberbatch, then Price’s yarn is also a lot of fun.
Fans of steampunk and Victorian detective fiction alike will enjoy Price’s continent-hopping romp in time.