Friday, February 08, 2019

The Anti-Sherlock Holmes, William Arrowood, Returns in THE MURDER PIT

Glasgow-born Mick Finlay has taken rough conditions to the extreme, including the condition of his detective, in his second Arrowood mystery, THE MURDER PIT. And it's a doozy. With twists, risks, extreme danger, and graphic descriptions of filth and poverty, it's an outrageous counter to the civilied Sherlock Holmes narratives supposedly being printed at the same time that Arrowood and his loyal sidekick Norman Barnett are scrambling to make a living. And there's a fierce rivalry between Arrowood, the "workingman's detective," and the pricey and elegant Holmes: one that's more than just the part of the city where they live, the amount they get paid, the gap between praise and vilification in the London newspapers.

For Arrowood, a man of enormous heart (and girth), opens the interior of crime by observing the personality and emotions of the person he's facing. He puzzles over Darwin, sort out early psychology, grieves for the lot of the people in the slums around him in an emotional stew quite foreign to the celebrated cerebral sleuth of Baker Street. As he warms up to a case involving a woman who can't seem to speak for herself -- she's severely learning disabled and has been married off in a suspicious financial transaction, to a disgusting farm far from home -- Arrowood depends on Barnett's initial survey of the possibly forced bride:
"So Birdie looked in low spirits in train?" he asked, shoving the last piece of warm muffin in his gob.

"That's what it looked like to me. And I felt she wanted to show me too. But I couldn't swear by it. It was dark, and she only looked up quick."

"We ca all recognize grief," he said. "Mr. Darwin says it's universal: raised inner eyebrows, furrowed forehead, lowered mouth corners. The Hindoos, the Malays, the ancient Greeks—all the same. If we couldn't recognize sadness in others we couldn't sympathize. And what would society be like without sympathy, Barnett?"

"Like London sometimes, sir."
Brace for filth, and description of disgusting conditions, from the reek of Arrowood himself, to the pig manure and malicious violence that follow when the pair dig into what's going on in a very unscrupulous medical practice. It's often ugly in Arrowood's London.

But it's also a city of passion and surprising tenderness, and Barnett himself will finally reveal the sorry state of his life to his employer, whose caring is direct and honest. (Just don't get close enough to let Arrowood enfold you in an embrace, an action that again the posh Sherlock Holmes would not condone.)

The devil may be in the details. Walking with this unusual detection team may turn your stomach every few pages. Yet the plot twists are agile, the discoveries worth the work, and yes, I'd read another in this series. I liked the first one, too (Arrowood.) Brought from the UK by the Mira imprint of HarperCollins.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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