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by Kenneth Cameron
Orion, March 2012
400 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 1409132706

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Arthur Conan Doyle arrives in the US in January 1896 for a lecture tour along with his wife Louisa. While at their New York hotel, Louisa sees a newspaper sketch of a murdered woman, and recognises her as someone she saw in the hotel only the day before. Conan Doyle is dismissive, but has to depart on his tour, and Louisa, who takes a fall and sprains her ankle, is left at the hotel with her maid. She is intimidated by the city and its unfamiliar inhabitants, but is determined to bring her information to the notice of the authorities. Notwithstanding their active discouragement and her injury, she persists and is gradually drawn deeper into what becomes a series of deaths, culminating in events that become very personal.

WINTER AT DEATH'S HOTEL develops in an unexpected direction from the beginning. We hear little of Doyle, who is established as a typical if rather stuffy nineteenth-century man. Louisa, by contrast, easily generates interest and empathy - she is a thinking person of sound judgement capable of warm friendships, and not easily dissuaded from action when motivated. She is stimulated by the size and pace of life in turn-of-the-century New York, which is brought to life by a wealth of detail as Louisa ventures out to pursue her enquiries.

Underlying the framework of the plot is an overwhelming emphasis on sex, with particular reference to the male domination of society. While Cameron does not overstate the case, WINTER could almost be regarded as feminist polemic. Louisa's reliance on her husband for money, the deference she is expected to show to him, the difficulty she has in being taken seriously, the complexity and inconvenience of female dress, and the care she needs to take to protect her reputation are all explored in detail through Louisa's thinking. At the same time, she is shown to have a normal healthy sexual appetite, and her attitude is not one of a rejection of men, but merely frustration at the lack of freedom she has to express her own personality.

Notwithstanding this female perspective there is a great deal of violence done to the women who are the victims of the murders in the book. The mutilation is described in great detail and some readers may find this too strong to be easily digestible. The final scenes bring together the two sides of the sexual equation in a dramatic and harrowing finale. The slide from the genteel commencement of WINTER to its raw and unresolved ending is as impressive as it is genuinely shocking.

Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, April 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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