Sidney Grice, London's most famous personal detective, is expecting a visitor. He drains his fifth pot of morning tea, and glances outside, where a young, plain woman picks her way between the piles of horse-dung towards his front door. Sidney Grice shudders. For heaven's sake – she is wearing brown shoes.
Set between the refined buildings of Victorian Bloomsbury and the stinking streets of London's East End, THE MANGLE STREET MURDERS is for those who like their crime original, atmospheric, and very, very funny.
I'll be honest: the reason I requested this book on NetGalley was only partially because I have a weakness for Victorian detective romps; it was also because the author originally hailed from my home county (Lancashire) and I will take any opportunity I can to bang on about how great things that come out of Lancashire are. Particularly seeing as I now live in Yorkshire, where people enjoy telling you how rubbish the things that come out of Lancashire are. Let's proceed with the banging on about how great The Mangle Street Murders is.
The cantankerous male detective with the intelligent female sidekick defying convection to fight crime isn't exactly new but it's a formula that I will always love. Maybe it's the feminist in me but I just don't ever seem to tire of women standing up to their counterparts and vying for a piece of the action but there are enough twists in this iteration that it's worth reading even if you think you've had enough of Victorian crime novels. March Middleton, our leading lady, stays on the right side of plucky. She's witty and gets stuck in but without being so cavalier that she jumps into ludicrous situations without thinking of the consequences. Feisty I am fond of; disrupting investigations by requiring saving, not so much.
Sidney Grice isn't your usual grumpy detective either in many ways. Sure, he consistently underestimates his peers and is aloof and utterly mercenary (and is generally faintly reminiscent of many people's favourite eccentric crime investigator). But he's also fallible, has a fake eye that won't stay put, and lacks the charm or allure that I'm more used to finding in the detectives whose exploits I'm following about town. There is little really to like about him other than the fact that his dry sense of humour was spot on...and that made me utterly adore him as a character. I'd never want to meet the chap but I can't wait to read more about him. In fact, the characters are generally just great and the dialogue is sharp and doesn't feel clumsy or as if it's straining under the weight of trying to be funny. Tick, tick and tick.
I seem to be saying this a lot recently (and perhaps it speaks of the optimism in me) but what surprised me, and where The Mangle Street Murders breaks away from the usual, is how dark the story is. There are murders, of course, but it's the way the plot plays out where things get really gloomy. I was actually quite taken aback by some of the turns (and the ending!) - I was convinced that eventually it would turn out to be similar to other books of this genre (sub-genre?), with some red herrings, mild peril and a happy ending. It took me nearly two thirds of the book to appreciate that I really was reading something a bit different and just surrender to the melancholy.
My only slight criticism is that the way that March's back story is woven in is a little stilted. The plot is interspersed with letters/journal entries and it isn't really clear at the outset how they fit in with everything else. I'm not sure what else I would have preferred but I just felt that there could have been a less disjointed way of working in that character development. Not enough to spoil an otherwise very enjoyable murder mystery but a niggle nonetheless.
Overall: If you aren't from the north west of England and need a little more convincing to pick up The Mangle Street Murders, let me assure you that it really is rather good. It plays around with what is usually quite a light-hearted trope and I never really got a handle on the mystery until everything was revealed. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for the next Sidney Grice investigation, The Curse of the House of Foskett.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Date finished: 25 February 2014 Format: eBook Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley - thanks, Head of Zeus! Genre: Historical fiction; crime Pictured edition published: by Head of Zeus in November 2013