An avid reader, Stephen's knowledge of Crime Fiction is fairly extensive, with The Golden Age is his greatest interest.
This is the fourth book in the Gower Street Detective series by Mr M R C Kasasian. Many readers will already be acquainted with this marvelous series; If not then why not start with this one, as it rattles along like a steam engine pulling a load of empty coal wagons. It is elegantly imaginative, witty and quirky with lively and well-drawn characters that really entertainment. The writer's humour and spirit come right of the page to greet you.
Set in a Victorian London of 1883, the Detective at the centre of this engaging narrative is Mr Sidney Grice - a rude, arrogant and overbearing man, but with great intelligence and investigative skills. "My dog is livelier than my sense of humour and I don't keep a dog" is Mr Grice's response to a comment on his sense of humour. He is accompanied on his enquiries by his Ward, Miss March Middleton, a young woman left alone in a harsh world after the death of her father.
March and Grice are very different characters and spend much of their time bickering and answering back with quick-fire retorts. But, for March smoothing over some of Mr Grice's more forthright comments, he would find himself in many more awkward situations. The pair work very well together and are finely detailed as living characters. The narrative is split in three parts; the first and last detailed by March and the second from Mr Grice. The contrast between the two styles really helps to highlight their differing characters.
Mr Grice is enticed from London to Yorkshire to investigate a death in a monastery. Almost immediately March receives an invitation from an unknown second cousin to visit him at Saturn Villa. The second cousin is a tiny eccentric red haired man, Mr Ptolemy Hercules Arbuthnot Travers Smith who wants to be known to March as Uncle Tolly. He is so delighted to meet his only living relative that he insists on drawing up a new will making March his sole heir to his not inconsiderate estate.
Strange things happen at Saturn Villa, March is given something laced with a poison that causes her to become fevered and delirious. During the night she hears noises in the house and gets up to find Uncle Tolly dead in bed, his head smashed open with an axe. In her delirious state she fears she may have murdered her only relative. March escapes the house to return later with Mr Grice and her friend Inspector George Pound only to find Uncle Tolly alive and well.
Even stranger ‘happenings’ occur when March is kidnapped by men working for Uncle Tolly. March is brought before Uncle Tolly who apologises for the way she was treated, but then shoots himself in front of her. Again, it looks uncomfortable for March when a Policeman arrives he suspects her of murder. However, Mr Grice is able to prove to the Police that Uncle Tolly actually did shoot himself. This is not the end of the unfortunate incidents that occur and March is again arrested for another suspected murder, this time of a Mrs Prendergast. Without Mr Grice, incommoded by a tropical disease, March is charged but released on bail, only to be rearrested and sent to Holloway for the suspected murder of a witness.
What is at the root of all these apparent suicides made to look like murder and aimed at March Middleton, and can Mr Grice save his Ward from the hangman?
This is a fascinating Victorian world of invention, adventure and skullduggery. Mr Kasasian is [to use one of his own phrases] a prestidigitator with words creating supernatural characters. I look forward to next instalment of the excellent Gower Street Detective.