It's a great way to enter the Holmes world without trying to craft yet another pastiche. Consider William Arrowood a rough character himself, a former newspaper man whose scorn for the chronicled super-deductive high-society sleuth peppers his conversations -- and determines his attitude toward people in his South London slum who seek his help. If they reveal they wish they could afford Holmes instead, they're in trouble!
The opening of the book, described as "South London, 1895," sets the scene perfectly, from the point of view of Arrowood's assistant, Mr. Barnett:
The very moment I walked in that morning I could see the guvnor was in one of his tempers. His face was livid, his eyes puffy, his hair, least what remained on that scarred knuckle of a head, stuck out over one ear and lay flat with grease on the other side. He was an ugly sight, all right. I lingered by the door in case he threw his kettle at me again. Even from there I could smell the overnight stink of gin on his foul breath.When a young French lady in a bonnet and billowing skirt arrives to see Arrowood's help, it takes all of Barnett's skill to keep her case attractive to his "guvnor." She risks losing the sleuth by her admiration for Holmes, of course, and also be being French ... and female. But Barnett has the bottom line in mind, and negotiates a case.
"Sherlock blooming Holmes!" he bellowed, slamming his fist down on the side-table. "Everywhere I look they're talking about that charlatan!"
When it becomes obvious that Arrowood and Barnett will have to spy on and probably confront members of a dangerous criminal gang that's already threatened their lives, the crime novel turns into a Victorian thriller, hot with action and risk.
The book's well written, with just a hint of "debut" novel in its pacing. Most appealing is actually the character of Arrowood's sidekick Barnett (a more emotionally complicated person than Doyle's Dr. Watson). Details of gritty and sometimes grotesque Victorian poverty come through, along with a finely honed edge of violence.
Mick Finlay has an unusual background for this field, one that may bear significant importance as the promised series continues:
Mick Finlay was born in Glasgow and grew up in Canada and England. He now divides his time between Brighton and Cambridge. He teaches in a Psychology Department, and has published social psychological research on political violence, persuasion, and verbal and non-verbal behaviour. He reads widely in history, psychology, and enjoys a variety of fiction genres (including crime, of course!)
PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.