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FATAL ENQUIRY
by Will Thomas
Minotaur Books, June 2014
293 pages
$25.99
ISBN: 125004104X


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn, private agents of enquiry, are sitting quietly in their London office, when Scotland Yard's Inspector Terence Poole arrives to warn them - to stay away from a passenger arriving by steamer from India. The passenger happens to be the man who masterminded the murder of Cyrus's brother and so, naturally, Cyrus and Thomas are off to meet the steamer. Once the passenger, Sebastian Nightwine, arrives in London, Cyrus and Thomas suddenly find themselves on the lam with the law hot on their heels.

A Barker and Llewelyn novel is immense fun. First the Welsh and Scots insults fly thick and fast, and for those who enjoy a wee bit of ethnic humor, Thomas's novel fills the ticket. Barker and Llewelyn novels are such a romp: Barker knows too many martial arts for anyone short of Sherlock himself, and Llewelyn carries a concealedůvolume of Browning's poetry - so readers find themselves on the streets of the London of gaslight detective fiction, not the real London, and not really historical London either, but rather a place that lives most fully in books. Here, the characters sport a quirkiness that is Austenian or Dickensian: the Scots boxer who despises Marquess of Queensbury Rules and preaches the gospel; the Jewish moneylender who sics all his moneylender friends on Nightwine, who seems to be behind on his bills; the powerful freemasons and their secret handshakes; the librarian who lives in the library, the Chinese boatman who hides Barker. These characters and many others besides people a London whose place names - Paddington, Westminster, Trafalger Square - are storied.

Once Barker and Llewelyn begin their escape from the London police force, they don disguises, cut their hair, remove their neckties, hide in rooms, libraries, pubs, and boats. They learn, of course, that Nightwine has spread a scurrilous lie: that they are responsible for the death of Lord Clayton, who was found insensible by his Folly. There is a pretty girl, a loaded umbrella, a missing map, and a lot of money. Barker and Llewelyn must stay out of the grasp of the cops long enough to stop Nightwine's evil intentions to defraud the English government.

ž Cathy Downs, professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, is a fan of the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, May 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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