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THE SECRETS OF GASLIGHT LANE
by M.R.C. Kassasian
Pegasus Books Ltd., April 2017
512 pages
$25.95
ISBN: 1681773589


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

THE SECRETS OF GASLIGHT LANE reveals a mystery wrapped in an enigma, with hints, hidden passages, dropped lockets, and cagey household servants. Kassasian's newest Victorian-era work harbors murder, madness, wit and revenge, with a twist, a very Holmesian twist, my dear Dr Watson. Kassasian's ber-logician and private investigator Sidney Grice, is so meticulously logical that he loses all sight of social graces. His personality, and that of his female ward (who has sharpened both her brain and her tongue) so conflict with our notions of what it means to be "Victorian" that humor is created by the frission.

In the novel, ten years ago ("now" is 1883), members of the Garstang family, plus servants and visitors, were brutally killed in their vast old home on Gaslight Lane. Now in the same old house, the house's owner has been slashed to death in his bed. Miss Charity Goodsmile, the murdered man's daughter, has asked the famous detective Sidney Grice to help her find her father's murderer.

Dramatis personae: A first-person narrator, the intelligent, plainspoken, and curious Miss Middleton, who is Watson to Grice's Holmes; Sidney Grice, a private investigator (he insists on being called a personal detective) whose ravenous appetite for facts is never turned off, and who is appallingly rude to his housekeeper; Molly, Grice's Irish housekeeper with an attitude who issues malapropisms at the rate of several per page; Cherry Goodsmile, who dabbles in art, whose father has been slashed to death in his bed; Austin Hesketh, the murdered man's very most exceedingly proper valet; Angelina Innocenti, a maid, the only survivor of the Garstang killings; Monsieur LeBon, a painter and an idler; Nathan Mortlock, nephew to the Garstang family and the family's heir who is, unfortunately, dead; Sou' Easterly Gale Nutter, an unfortunately named footman in the Nathan Mortlock's unfortunate household; Veronique, zee sexy French maid in zee same household; a mysterious first-person narrator who has nightmares of the night he killed the Garstang family.

In THE SECRETS OF GASLIGHT LANE, Cherry Goodsmile, ne Mortlock, seeks the services of Sidney Grice and Miss Middleton to discover her father's murderer. The novel follows the investigators as they burrow into the old mansion that has seen so many deaths. We follow the sleuths into locked rooms, hear the testimony of servants, police officers, morticians, jailors, and ticket-clerks. The list of characters is extensive enough to people a neighborhood, a Victorian-era city. Each of the characters is connected by tenuous, temporary, slender, invisible bonds to all the others, a veritable spider's-web of connections. Using ratiocination, Sidney Grice and Miss Middleton doggedly question, view, unearth, and test. We follow them and are privy to every clue they reveal. If we were only as good as Grice and Middleton, we would know the killer before they named him.

What my attempts at summary do not reveal is how humorous the novel can be. With its tongue quite firmly in its cheek, it out-Holmeses Holmes, it out-Victorias Victoria. It is a burlesque of all Victorian novels and, probably most especially, of our modern notions of Victorian novels, and is this reason, not the mystery (which is very, very twisty and very well done indeed) that one would read this book. Just when the reader believes she has solved the mystery, another twist, another humorous jab is revealed. We follow the trail, it peters out in comedy and lambast. Further than that, I cannot tell.

Cathy Downs, Ph.D., is professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where she teaches American Literature and is a fan of the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, April 2017

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