The first in the charming, evocative, and sharply plotted Victorian crime series that is “a deft blend of accuracy and frivolity, sure to please lovers of historical mysteries.” (Shelf Awareness)
So this is book one in the Gower Street Detectives, and based on the above blurb I thought it would be right up my alley. It’s set in Victorian England, telling the tale of of a young woman who has arrived to stay with her guardian after the death of her father. March Middleton, the heroine, is quite an outspoken woman for her times and she enjoys smoking and tippling gin. Sidney Grice, the guardian, is a strait laced, meticulous and mercenary man, who is prone to making rude comments. I would say he’s clearly patterned after Sherlock Holmes, and I certainly wouldn’t call him “charming” or “frivolous”.
The plot starts off pretty quickly, with a woman arriving to hire Mr Grice to investigate a murder. Her daughter has been killed, with the husband is accused of the deed. Unfortunately, the woman lacks the funds to pay for the detective’s services so March quickly jumps in to offer to pay the fee (she inherited some funds from her father’s estate). So starts the investigation, which leads Grice and March through a lot of seedy back rooms and meeting odd characters along the way. There’s also a police inspector that aids them, much like Inspector Lestrade in the Holmes world, who seems to be a little smitten with March. The story has some twists in it, and the main characters do some verbal sparring that adds a bit of dry humor.
Overall, it was fine – Grice seems to be over the top in a lot of ways, and rather unlikeable. He grudgingly allows March to assist him, explaining that women just don’t have the brains for the job. This mindset is, of course, indicative of the era but it’s quite clear that March is intelligent and quite capable. There’s some mysterious back story regarding March, as there are snippets of letters that indicate she had a serious love interest who is no longer in the picture – I’m not sure how or what bearing that has on future books in the series or if it was just thrown in for good measure. The book really didn’t measure up to what I was expecting, but I will try book two and see if things improve.