Mystery Books for Sale

[ Home ]
[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]


by Robert J. Lloyd
Melville House, October 2022
464 pages
ISBN: 1612199755

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Robert J. Lloyd's first "Hunt and Hooke" mystery THE BLOODLESS BOY was a richly detailed, dizzying tour of London in the wake of the Great Fire, as viewed by Henry Hunt, glorified laboratory assistant to Sir Robert Hooke, the curmudgeonly genius who, with his MICROGRAPHIA (1665), introduced Londoners to a frightening world of microscopic monsters. While THE BLOODLESS BOY's mystery was suspenseful and unguessable, the novel's real delight was its careful reconstruction of the world of seventeenth-century London science, or, as they called it back then, natural philosophy. This has an indelible effect upon detection. An amateur sleuth reluctantly co-opted into the investigation of dangerous and politically sensitive mysteries, Lloyd's Hunt applies the principles of the nascent science that he's learning–basics such as observation, experimentation, and dedication–to determine what was done and who did it. The most wonderful thing about this series is watching this new method unfold several centuries before Sherlock Holmes attempts it.

In THE POISON MACHINE, Hunt is called out of London to perform what we would consider a forensic investigation of the body of an unidentified murder victim. This individual turns out to have been less than two feet tall, but his dental condition and other evidence makes it clear that he wasn't a child. Thankfully, the solution to the mystery is not what it was in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A STUDY IN SCARLET. This man had dwarfism. The queen had a confidante with the same condition, Sir Jeffrey Hudson. Only Hudson is known to be alive. Is he still? Is there a second diminutive diplomat at large in England? Who has killed the man Hunt encounters, and why? The title makes it clear that the answer will involve a "poison machine," but what exactly this is, whether it exists, and why it's been dreamed up, Lloyd keeps under wraps until nearly the end.

Along the way, we meet Sir Isaac Newton at Cambridge, follow the twists and turns of a historical plot against England's persecuted Catholics, and find Hooke's niece Grace–a major character in THE BLOODLESS BOY–infiltrating all-male Cambridge University in effective drag. Hunt still has feelings for her, but there's nothing melodramatic or pat about their messy relationship. The glamorous, witty, and sword-wielding Hortense Mancini, niece of a Dumas villain who happened to be a real person, is back, and, as in THE BLOODLESS BOY, wants Hunt to investigate a theft while he's hunting his murderer. Once again, Hortense is a dapper provocateur whose privilege enables her to resist gender norms in a book that refuses to gloss over the relentless sexism of Restoration society and the scientific community that is a microcosm of it. Lloyd's characters are simultaneously deeply imaginative and perceptive and very much of their time and place, which Lloyd refuses to romanticize. This principle of accurate observation, so in tune with the series' theme and Hunt's personal values, is one of the series' many strengths and something that distinguishes it from nearly all historical mysteries set in pre-20th-century Britain that I have read lately. In this latest adventure, Hunt learns that his world is more dangerous than he thought and also more easily decipherable. You'll want to read THE POISON MACHINE more than once to catch all the important details. I can't wait to find out what Hunt's next adventure teaches him.

§ 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, October 2022

[ Top ]



Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]
[ Home ]