The disappearance of a middle-class child in 1885 London reveals the existence of a brutal serial killer.
Secretive enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn, erstwhile Oxford scholar lately imprisoned on false charges, take up the case of Gwendolyn DeVere, who vanished from the offices of the Charity Organization Society, where her mother did volunteer work. Barker and Llewelyn are disturbed to discover that she is just one of many missing young girls to be found strangled, violated and desecrated. The other children were lower-class; at a time when the age of consent was 13, the police wrote them off as prostitutes. When Gwendolyn is found murdered in similar fashion, Mrs. DeVere kills herself, Major DeVere drowns his sorrows and Barker, vowing to hunt down the killer, sets up surveillance in an empty Bethnal Green warehouse as a crusading socialist editor works to put a bill before Parliament over the House of Lords’ objections to raise the age of consent. Llewelyn’s fisticuffs with his aristocratic Oxford enemy and a resurgence of the notorious Hellfire Club may have a bearing on the case. It takes all Barker’s skills to reveal a vile killer beneath Victorian society’s prim face.
Thomas (To Kingdom Come, 2005, etc.) cleverly develops his characters’ personalities while maintaining his marvelously wrought descriptions of a bygone era.