Tuesday, 27 September 2016

As a devotee of Sherlock Holmes and his many rivals - Conan Doyle was not the only writer of detective short stories in late Victorian England - I was interested to pick up a copy of Cavan Scott's The Patchwork Devil.

This is a full length novel, set in the aftermath of the Great War, which sees Holmes having left Baker Street, and enjoying semi-retirement as a bee keeper on the South Downs.

Of course,  during a brief stay in London with his companion Dr Watson, now living in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, with his second wife, the pair get quickly drawn into yet another seemingly unfathomable mystery.

Following the discovery of a severed hand on the banks of the River Thames, the two find themselves up against a government conspiracy, involving Holmes' brother, Mycroft, that leads them to the most horrific of discoveries.

This is clearly not the pen of Conan Doyle, but a cracking story it surely is. I simply could not put the book down.

One of the joys of Conan Doyle's stories for me is the descriptions he gave us of individual buildings, streets, and districts in London. He placed Holmes and Watson perfectly in what was the actual London landscape of the day, and as one with a passion for the history of late-Victorian/Edwardian London that always added a great deal for me.

Scott of course would not have seen those sights with his own eyes, unlike Conan Doyle. Although some of the places mentioned in the original stories can easily be found and recognised, Scott's descriptions of some of the better known areas suffice.

The dialogue between Holmes and Watson is absolutely spot on. Of the course the two men are now a little older, and both a little grumpier, but the humour remains and this is one of the strongest points of the book.

The story itself is first rate. As the plot develops, we see the influence of another great writer of the period, Mary Shelley, enter into the storyline. I will say no more about the plot - read it yourselves!

Cavan Scott: The Patchwork Devil (Titan Books, London (2014) isbn: 9781783297146.)

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Roberta Kray: The Debt

I recently picked up a copy of The Debt, by Roberta Kray. Modern crime novels don't particularly interest me, so it was an unusual choice. To be honest it was the name of the author that initially caught my attention - Roberta is the widow of Reggie Kray, who along with his twin brother Ronnie, was one of the most feared gangland bosses in London's history.

The plot centres around Johnny Frank, released from jail after serving 18 years for murdering a fellow criminal following a Hatton Garden diamond heist.

The story is one one of bitterness and revenge set against attempts to recover the stolen jewels.
Johnny Frank is a superbly crafted character. Cold, methodical, violent, but with an underlying empathy which, whilst it exists, is rarely acted upon. I was reminded of Ralph Fiennes portrayal of 'Harry' in the movie In Bruges, the physical description even matches.

Indeed, all of the main characters are strong, and most lose such sympathy as the reader may instinctively have for any fellow human being very quickly.

The story is told in the first person, with the narrator alternating chapter by chapter between Frank himself and Simone Buckley, the daughter-in-law of Jim Buckley, a former associate of Frank, against who the released murderer bares a deep grudge.

The plot unfolds fast, with many twists and turns. Seemingly every character has their secrets and their ulterior motives. There are the inevitable romantic undertones throughout, which I find distracting, if not irritating, but that is not a criticism of Mrs Kray's style of writing, it is about my own personal tastes.

I subconsciously nodded agreement at Frank's comments about how the East End had changed during the 18 years he had been in prison, although a real life East Ender would have had a lot more to say on the subject for certain.

The book is a good read - the fact that I found time to read it from cover to cover over the course of just two very busy days says something.

The Debt, Roberta Kray (Robinson, London, 2006) isbn 9781-1-84529-212-6

Monitor link Monitor link