London 1835, and the wind of change is in the air. Plans are afoot for two railways to be built, connecting London with various other parts of the country and the hope is that this will encourage trade and create jobs. However, the navvies who are building the railway are being rallied into unionising and demanding better pay and safer working conditions. The figure at the head of this movement is the mysterious Captain Paine – nobody seems to know who the captain is, or indeed even if he really exists. The discontent stirred up in the workers seems likely to spill over into bloodshed…
Meanwhile, life has also changed for anti-hero Pyke. Having married the wealthy Emily Blackwood, he now finds himself, as the co-manager of a successful bank, living in a huge mansion with a large staff and plenty of money. However, while Pyke loves his wife and young son, he is not entirely comfortable with his new station in life. So when his former acquaintance and sometime adversary Sir Robert Peel asks him to look into the murder of murdered man whose headless corpse has been dumped in Huntingdon, Pyke uses all the skill and cunning he employed in his former occupation as a Bow Street Runner. However, as he starts to dig deeper into the circumstances surrounding the murder, he smells corruption. The murder is part of a much bigger problem which threatens to destroy the lives of many, and even the future of the Royal Family. But it is when things start to become dangerous for Pyke’s family that he really gets angry…
This is the second book in the series of Pyke mysteries. The first one is called The Last Days of Newgate (which I enjoyed immensely), but while it may help to have read the previous book, it isn’t necessary to enjoy this one.
As before, the writing is terrific, with plenty of atmosphere, really putting the reader into 1830s London. Pyke is a terrific anti-hero – he is ruthless, violent and not above making underhand deals. He is also largely unrepentant for his actions, only caring about the possible consequences for himself and his family. However, despite all of this, the author lets just enough of a more gentle side come through, which makes the character one to root for, despite everything.
There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot – and this was part of the problem with this book. While I enjoyed it and look forward to reading the next book in the series, the plot was just too convoluted. On a number of occasions I had to flick back to remind myself who certain characters were and what their role in the story was. There was a plot thread involving a former girlfriend of Pyke’s and events in her own history – I felt that this could all have been cut out, without losing any of the punchiness of the plot.
However, things were all made clearer by the end, and the ending itself was very satisfying; there were a couple of major plot twists which I did not see coming.
Overall, for fans of historic crime fiction this is a recommended read – but be warned that this is no gentle mystery. There is violence and gore splattered throughout the pages.
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