An avid reader, Stephen's knowledge of Crime Fiction is fairly extensive, with The Golden Age is his greatest interest.
Sutton's Sergeant Campbell Lawless of Scotland Yard is a tough, strong and bright, honest man in a Victorian London full of crime and vice where corruption is rife. In this his second investigation Lawless, nicknamed Watchman due to his apprenticeship as a watchmaker, is tasked by his superior Sir Richard Payne to undertake a census of sin. He must record all the houses of disrepute in the city, provide information on the numbers of prostitutes working therein and the lives they lead, then present his findings to a Parliamentary Committee.
It is 1863 Britain is at peace, but there are British interests at play in the American Civil War and worries abound regarding possible revolutionary reactions to events in Europe such as the unification of Italy. However, the British Empire is rich and here at home London is investing some of that wealth in the newly begun underground railway system.
What a city London is, it is the capital of the British Empire, it is so full of life , of all life, of every conceivable form, people from all over the World, people of all types and colours. The London Sutton describes is the underbelly of the great Victorian city, the destitution, the filth, the violence, vice and corruption that was all around beneath the gentrified air of the gas lit main thoroughfares. He uses a mix of real life characters and his own creations to inhabit this merciless world.
Lawless is helped, and sometimes hindered along the way by his array of friends and contacts. These range from important figures such as the Prince of Wales himself and the writer Wilkie Collins to lowly street performers and their underworld friends. An intriguing individual is Felix Sonnabend who has set up the Phoenix Foundation for Fallen Women. There is also the Press Baron J W Brodie and his newspaper empire ready to report any scandal or create one if necessary.
There are murders and thefts from high society figures all seemingly connected to the murky world of pornography and prostitution. Uncovering corrupt Policemen who are taking bribes to turn a blind eye or being paid for information about murder cases, perfidious politicians and duplicitous officials Lawless must trust his instincts. Can he trust his friends and colleagues with the information he is uncovering. Sergeant Jeffcoat appears to be an unlikely ally, but Lawless is in need of allies when he persuades the Committee Chairman to hold an Enquiry into vice in the city, something his boss did not want. As the Enquiry, begins sinister men at someone's bidding are seen about the city and soon deliver a threat to Lawless to give up his investigations or suffer the consequences.
Can Lawless deliver the evidence to the Enquiry and will his witnesses appear to testify against their enslavers? Can he prove who is behind this criminal operation? Here is a thrilling investigation in a teeming metropolis at the height of its power and wealth where some in the highest levels of society are implicated in corruption, crime and vice. This is an intricate plot that ticks along like the workings of a precision instrument and well worth the read.