📚’Great characters, setting, and a social commentary on the Victorian era.’ @OlgaNM7 reviews #mystery Murder & Mischief by Carol Hedges @riotgrandma72

Today’s team review is from Olga.

Olga blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

Orange rose and Rosie's Book Review Team
Rosie’s Book Review Team

Olga has been reading Murder & Mischief by Carol Hedges.

I have known about Carol Hedges and her books for a long time; I have read many reviews of the novels of the Victorian Detectives series, and I always thought that I would find the time to read them all in order at some point. When I realised that she had published novel number 10, I decided I’d better try to join its readers now, as that would give me a chance to comment on its suitability as a stand-alone novel. And, in case any people who haven’t read any of the previous novels in the series are debating if they will enjoy it without any background information, they can rest assured. This novel, on its own, is a great read. There are passing references to previous events (especially when referring to the background of some of the main characters and old cases), but the author only touches on them, offering enough information to help readers understand some of the interactions between the characters, but never taking the focus away from the actual story. That also means that readers who decide to go back and read some of the other novels after reading this one won’t feel as if they had been cheated because they had been told the whole story already. It is a win/win, and not an easy feat to achieve in a series, even in the mystery genre when the cases are meant to be unrelated.

The plot combines an unusual crime (at first, it isn’t even clear if there is a real crime to investigate or just some bizarre prank), with the adventures of a boy and girl (Flinch and Liza) who manage to escape from a workhouse and make their way to London. We have a number of detectives from Scotland Yard investigating the bizarre crime, and a female private detective trying to help a father locate the two children, both cases taking place in London in the late 1860s, with innovations such as the underground (and it does play a stellar part in the story), visits to fashionable department stores, pubs and coffee shops where information can be obtained, the docks, the sailors, the Chinese population, the artists of the era trying to make a living by reflecting the reality (more or less) in the streets, real estate operations, the press and their interest in strange crimes, and even a visit to Birmingham. Again, the author has a talent for making us experience the streets of London and Birmingham, the interior of public houses, hotels, shops, and big mansions, without going into long-winded descriptions that interrupt the flow of the story. The use of an omniscient narrator, who often addresses the reader directly, allows us to see things from a variety of perspectives, from a child to an officer of the law and even the baddies, and this unknown narrator also infuses the story with some touches of humour (dark at times) and a social commentary very apt to the historical period. This is not an idealised image of Victorian England. We have unscrupulous people exploiting young children, families without means being evicted and left homeless, dirt, smoke, noise, and plenty of danger.

I am sure people who have been following the story will know more about the Scotland Yard investigators, but here, although they appeared enough to give me a sense of the type of people they were, (especially Greig and Williams), and the case was so intriguing that it kept me turning the pages, I was rooting for Flitch and Liza, the young escapees going through all kinds of trials in London. Their story and their adventures reminded me of Dickens (mentioned in the description), and some of the characters would have been at home in one of his novels. There were characters who were morally good and others bad, but there were some grey areas as well, and I particularly appreciated the fact that the Chinese community is shown as welcoming and caring, and the lunatic asylum (a private facility) that appears in the story seems well-run and enlightened in its treatment of the patients.

This is not a cozy mystery novel: there are some scary moments, and sad events are referred to (and take place), but there is no explicit violence or gore. My only other warning would be to mention that the story is written in the present tense, and I know some readers don’t like that. I am a bit in two minds about it, but I must say with the use of the narrator it seemed to flow quite naturally, and it didn’t bother me in particular.

I want to avoid spoiling the story, but I enjoyed the ending (or endings). There is a degree of moral ambiguity that I appreciated, and although those who dislike chance and coincidence might not agree with me, I thought it all worked out as it should. In sum, the reviews I had read so far were right. This is an entertaining novel, set in a fascinating historical period, which manages to bring to life the London of the Victorian era and a varied cast of characters, while intriguing us with two mysteries and making us reflect on the social circumstances of the time (and how far, or not, we have come since). 

Orange rose book description
Book description

It is January, a time of year when not much crime usually happens. But when Inspector Greig is unexpectedly summoned to the opulent Hampstead residence of Mr. James William Malin Barrowclough, a rich businessman, he embarks upon one of the strangest and most bizarre investigations that he has ever been involved in.

Why has Barrowclough been targeted? What is inside the mysterious parcels that keep arriving at Hill House, and why won’t he cooperate with the police? The case will take the Scotland Yard detectives on a journey out of London and into the victim’s past, to uncover the secrets and lies that haunt his present.

Murder & Mischief is the tenth novel in the series, and in the great tradition of Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it entices the reader once again along the teeming streets and dimly gas~lit thoroughfares of Victorian London, where rich and poor, friend and foe alike mix and mingle.

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