A highly original Victorian murder mystery, which is totally absorbing with a unique central character.
This is the second book in a series but stands alone well, without any obvious recap or information dump. It features a transgender man, which, in Victorian times would have put him in an asylum should his secret become known. The 'secret' is a factor in the mystery surrounding the murder of a woman and the future of her orphaned children, but does not dominate the story otherwise. This is handled much better than I imagined it would be.
Nineteenth century London is depicted in a charming way, with appropriate language such as the use of the words 'fellow' and 'marvellous' and no pseudo-historical speech. There is a music hall, pie shop and a pharmacy that has a dentist's chair. None of these are lost in swathes of descriptive text but included in the stride of the story.
The titular Anarchists' Club highlights the contrast between the social classes and the issues of poverty, working conditions and education. There are references to the wave of revolution that had already spread through the rest of Europe nearly forty years earlier, which includes new ideas such as those of Darwin. The survival of the fittest concept being used to exploit poor because that is the natural order of things.
The theme of family runs throughout, with several characters in conflict with their natural parents while others struggle to find out their true parentage. As in real life, families and loyalties are complicated and tested frequently. The idea of only women being able to raise children is considered, as the protagonist seeks out women (mothers) to adopt a pair of orphans before he realises that both his landlord and his own father raised their children without mothers. The bond builds between the orphans and the transgender amateur detective, which makes him wonder if he has an instinctive desire to nurture them. As his female friend says about raising children: 'It's like bits of your soul detaching themselves and walking around on their own.'
There is tension, atmosphere and terror in this excellent book and I am looking forward to reading more about this unique character.
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., Raven Books May 2019. See my list of the latest books set in Victorian times.
Advanced review copy supplied by the publishers.
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