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by Heather Redmond
Kensington, October 2022
339 pages
ISBN: 1496737970

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Heather Redmond's fifth Dickens of a Crime cozy delivers tongue-in-check Dickensian humor, a twisty yet plausible plot, and, like its predecessors, nimble shifting between the perspectives of amateur sleuth Charles Dickens—a nobody who works for an 1830s London newspaper—and Kate Hogarth, his intrepid and perceptive fiancée. Fans of Dickens will appreciate the allusions without getting bored, and other readers might find themselves wanting to read the novel's main inspiration, Dickens's 1838 success OLIVER TWIST.

In A TWIST OF MURDER, Dickens is called out of town by his friend William Aga, the third-generation-headmaster of a boys' school that makes Charlotte Bronte's Lowood seem as fun as Hogwarts. At the dreadful Aga educational establishment, a servant—twelve-year-old Agnes Aga, niece of William—has gone missing. So have three street urchins (to the characters, "mudlarks"), who had been given scholarships more to polish the school's reputation than to improve their lives. Education doesn't really happen at Aga's school, particularly since he fell in with a new patron, the philanthropist Fagin Sikes. Yes, you read that right. While in OLIVER TWIST Fagin runs a school of crime, funded in part by the criminal activities of the burglar Bill Sikes, in A TWIST OF FATE, both criminals' double literally runs the school. Because isn't the criminal underworld compelling mainly as an expose of official institutions that are just as rotten, if not more so?

Redmond plays numerous games with character names while not forgetting to make her Dickensian world as grim as the original, replete with sexist distribution of educational opportunity, child neglect, and hellish work in the gravel pits. A different kind of danger confronts Kate as she nears her wedding to Dickens. At one point, she tells him that she believes love will last forever. His response is both mysterious and revelatory. It suggests that in future novels the realities of Victorian gender roles and patriarchal marriage will threaten their crime-solving partnership. Readers familiar with recent revelations about the historical Dickens's marriage will find this aspect of Redmond's world-building particularly ominous, and, I suspect, deeply intriguing.

That said, there's nothing depressing or frightening about A TWIST OF MURDER. Redmond layers darkness and light like (to quote Dickens's definition of melodrama, from OLIVER TWIST) streaky bacon. The murder of Agnes Aga is connected with a "treasure map," which she possessed and about which she regaled numerous other children at the school, teaching them a fascinating shadow curriculum. Once Redmond reveals this detail, A TWIST OF MURDER becomes a romp, consciously modeled on both Robert Louis Stevenson's TREASURE ISLAND and, I suspect, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story "The Musgrave Ritual." Recognition of these allusions does not in any way help the reader to solve the murder mystery; it only makes A TWIST OF MURDER seem like a Choose Your Own Adventure story in which the choices reflect a range of Victorian classics and, unlike with most CYA experiences, you really can follow all the paths at once.

I had one tiny quibble with this work: specifically, with the cover image of a young man in a top hat, seen from the back. His ears stick out from a shave so close it suggests the early twentieth century—but 1830s Dickens, not one to contest trends in personal appearance—had longish, tously hair. However, one must not judge a book by its cover illustration. I look forward to Dickens and Kate's forthcoming sixth outing—and I fear for them both.

§ Rebecca Nesvet is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and co-edits Reviewing the Evidence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, September 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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