An avid reader, Stephen's knowledge of Crime Fiction is fairly extensive, with The Golden Age is his greatest interest.
Set in 1895
London, a city at the height of its power as the capital of a mighty empire; a
London of vast wealth and privilege, but also of incredible poverty and
suffering. The city is the home of the World famous consulting detective
Sherlock Holmes and also home to Mr William Arrowood, private investigative
agent. Holmes handles the society crimes and scandals with tact and the cases
of national security with secrecy and diplomacy. Arrowood has the poorer
clients with the dirty, mean and low crimes, the ones that rarely appear in the
press, tact and diplomacy do not feature high on his agenda.
Arrowood is quite the
antithesis of his famous investigating colleague. Not for him the detecting of
crime using scientific analysis of the most minute of clues. Arrowood by his
own admission is an emotional agent, not a deductive agent he sees into people's
souls and smells out truth. He is a decipherer of people not of codes. In other
words he is a fascinating character.
He's a man you can
empathize with; here he is trying to operate his business in that very big
shadow cast by Holmes. People who come to him do so in the knowledge that if
they could afford it they would have gone to Holmes but as they can't afford to
- they go to Arrowood. Thus, he lives on the scraps as it were from Holmes'
table. For him, and his assistant Norman Barnett, there is no protection from
the Law in the status and class of a Gentleman of Private Means as there
is for Mr Holmes. Arrowood is a former newspaperman turned private investigator
and Barnett a former clerk. When the police want information it can be
physically as well as psychologically painful for the two men.
Arrowood is engaged by a
French woman, Miss Cousture to find her brother who has been working as a
pastry chef at a notorious inn called the Barrel of Beef. Miss Cousture thinks
her brother has disappeared because he was frightened for his life by something
that happened at the Inn. The Barrel of Beef is run by a well-known criminal
gang leader Stanley Cream, his gang is rumored to have been responsible for
many a murder, but so far the Law has been unable to prove any case against him
or his men. The Barrel of Beef and Stanley Cream have bad memories for Arrowood
and Barnett, as they are the rocks on which a previous case has foundered.
There are also
difficulties at home for both men too. Barnett's wife has died of the fever
while visiting her sister in Derby leaving him unable to come to terms with the
loss. He keeps it to himself unable to tell his friend and employer. Arrowood's
wife has left him sometime back, but he still has hopes of her return. His life
alone is dramatically changed by the sudden arrival of his missionary sister
back to fight poverty, sickness and sin in Southwark and its environs.
Can he trust his client?
How far should he trust her? What is the truth? What is fiction in the story
she has told? When the first employee of the Barrel they speak to, is murdered
almost in front of their eyes Arrowood and Barnett fear this case may end as
did the previous one in failure.
This is an intricately
woven plot with threads leading to possible connections with Irish Republicans
or Fenians as they were known, with a conspiracy within the police force and to
organized crime. The characters are lovingly formed creating a real feeling of
that larger than life world of the Victorians. The shabby rooms behind the
pudding shop in Coin Street are a reflection of Arrowood and Barnett who are
characters with feelings and vulnerabilities. They have all the human
frailties; they make mistakes and are all the more interesting for it.
Mr Finlay has opened the
door into Arrowood's flamboyant Victorian world and his writing will delight.