Setting: London 1886
Synopsis: Enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, are accused of a crime and try to clear their name, while Barker’s old enemy, Sebastian Nightwine arrives in London.
Review: Will Thomas has created a wonderful character in Cyrus Barker. Barker appears larger than life, he is an expert on many things, and you always feel that he is one step ahead of you. His life is a mystery, and this book delves into Barker’s past and you learn more about his early life in China. The problem with Barker being such a fascinating character is that when he disappears from the scene for a while, the book feels flat. Barker is the life, the mystery, the allure of this series. And what a great series it is!
Taking place in Victorian London, the Barker & Llewelyn mysteries place you in the heart of London. This London is not the fancy, clean London of other Victorian mysteries, but rather the dirty, seedy side of London. You are in the alleyways; you can smell the rot off the river, and feel the claustrophobia of all the people. There is so much to learn and so much detail that the author places in these books. These books always make me surf Wikipedia and various other sites looking up historical information, which I just love when a book drives me to do that.
The books are narrated by Llewelyn, Barker’s assistant/protégé, and he’s a likeable guy – he’s always trying to figure Barker out, so he’s the perfect narrator. There are many other characters in these books, from Etienne, the French chef, to Terrence Poole, working with Scotland Yard, even to Harm, Barker’s Pekinese. I have a fondness for Soho Vic, a street urchin who helps Barker sometimes.
This particular book in the series is sadly fairly predictable. I don’t recall the other books in the series being as predictable, but I still had great fun in reading this book! In particular there was one scene where Barker challenges his enemy, Nightwine, to a duel that was just wonderful. Another scene has lookalike Barker’s being spotted all over the streets of London – all of them wearing the “dark spectacles” that Barker always wears. I’m not gonna lie, I kinda wanted to reach for my sunglasses and put them on while reading the book!
All in all, this is a good addition to the series. You gain more insight into Barker’s past, and the ending sets the stage for future books. If you haven’t read this series, you should really start with book 1, Some Danger Involved, which is absolutely fantastic. These books are grittier than your lighter mysteries – not that graphic, but not light either.
Bottom Line: Predictable but fun. Fans of the series will like this book. But start at Book 1, Some Danger Involved, if you’ve never read a Barker and Llewelyn book yet. That one is absolutely fabulous.
If this sounds good, you might like:
- Evan Evans mysteries by Rhys Bowen: set in Wales, Evan Evans is a village constable. His character reminds me of Thomas Llewelyn – generally a good, nice, likeable guy
- Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown: Set in 1819, a chef is kidnapped by a female pirate and he must cook for her to save his life. What happens next is an adventure tale that takes you across oceans and to the Opium Trade.
- Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries by Anne Perry: a wonderful, deep mystery series set in Victorian London. The early books are more typical police detective type mysteries, with Thomas Pitt being an inspector and the later books have a more international flavor to them as Pitt has risen to the rank of commander of Special Branch. There are currently 30 books to this series! I’ve read all but the most recent and the majority of them are fabulous.
- The William Monk mysteries by Anne Perry: Monk, a detective in Victorian London, cannot remember who he is or anything about his past. Hester is a nurse who worked with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, and together Monk and Hester make a formidable team. I’ve only read a few of these, but so far they are great!
Why haven’t I read these yet?
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas: mentioned in this book, and again I’m reminded that I need to read this classic! Since I love the movie with Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce, I’m sure the book will be so much better.
- The works of Lord Byron: Llewelyn is lover of poetry, and I really should read more poetry.