Now that you’re all genre experts after my intro-post here, I’ve promised a week of book reviews of new genre mashup series additions. Lucky you! I’m starting with one of my favorite writers—and one of the best genre mashers out there—Carol Hodges, with her Victorian Detective series latest release, Fear & Phantoms, a historical detective slightly-horror occasionally-paranormal and just a bit romantic police procedural. No, really.
My Review: 5 stars out of 5 for Fear & Phantoms (The Victorian Detective Series Book 6) by Carol Hedges
I’ve said it before and it’s still the truth. Carol Hedges writes better Dickens than Dickens. Oh sure, she’s got that same wonderful ability to nail a character’s soul just through a physical description—
“In the background hovers Mrs. Mutesius, with her faded old-fashioned morning bonnet, false front of curls and her rusty black gown. She peers anxiously over her husband’s shoulder. Peering anxiously is Mrs. Mutesius’ default expression.”
And she’s a master of the large cast, intersecting plotlines, and conveniently outrageous coincidences you wouldn’t expect if London had a population of a few hundred let alone around a million souls. And that’s just the beginning.
Like all good police procedurals, Fear & Phantoms starts with a death, soon determined to be a murder. Our old Scotland Yard friends, Detectives Stride and Cully, are under pressure to determine the victim’s identity and find the killer. But elsewhere in London, a young woman wants to clear her missing brother from charges of theft, two ragged children try to protect each other from an abusive world, romance simmers, and a young woman reporter investigates miraculous appearances in the subway tunnels. Slow at first, the pace picks up speed as these seemingly unconnected plots delicately weave together to reveal a design that spells disaster at the highest levels of the financial world. Even more expertly than Dickens himself, author Carol Hedges plaits together these disparate plots with three tools. First there’s a gossamer thread of humor:
Cully says, ‘Besides, you know I’m not a religious man, but all the same, I don’t approve of using Bible names like that. It’s wrong. Virgin soap, Virgin cream ~ whatever next? Virgin trains?’
Then there’s the subversive, subtle cord of social conscience that was so very Dickensian. Here characters from the lowest levels of society, the two urchins Pin and Muggly still manage to show compassion and friendship, while young women like Lucy the young reporter, Helena the clerk, and Josephine the business woman claim their place in a man’s world.
Finally, there’s the bright, strong ribbon that is London itself, both as setting and as character in its own right. London, we’re told, “stalks the streets”. Residents don’t so much live in London, as they conduct a daily battle for survival.
In Winter, the lamplighter goes about his rounds like an executioner, his wick striking little sparks that barely lessen the darkness. In Summer, when it rains, it rains smuts, so that both clerks must move their desks to the far side of the room, for to write by an open window means a thin veil of smuts covering the paper before the page is written.
Characters are wonderfully drawn and brilliantly three-dimensional. One of the huge advantages of writing a series is the chance to showcase characters’ ability to develop, change, and grow—and author Hedges makes full use of this. Sure, you could read this as a stand-alone, but then you’d miss so much. You wouldn’t have the backstory that makes Inspector Grieg’s romance so poignant. You’d miss the steady advance of Cully’s career, and you might not even appreciate the importance of caffeine in solving a mystery.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged (by all Scotland Yard officers) that a detective inspector in possession of a great mystery must also be in want of a mug of coffee.”
Read this book. No, read this series. You’ll thank me.
Mishap, misunderstanding and mystery dog their footsteps as the Scotland Yard detectives find themselves in very murky territory indeed, at times struggling to keep their heads above water in the umbrous underworld of murder and financial fraud. Can they unmask the dark brutal mastermind lurking at the centre of it all, before he strikes again?
A taut, gripping historical crime novel that lays bare the dubious practices of the Victorian banking businesses and entices the reader into the shady world of high-class gambling houses, where fortunes can be made or lost on the luck of the cards.
In the great tradition of Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, this sharp witty series of detective novels brings back to life the murky gas-lit world of Victorian London.