01 November 2016

Books: Lawless and the Devil of Euston Square by William Sutton (2015)

“London 1859-62. A time of great exhibitions, foreign conquests and underground trains. But the era of Victorian marvels is also the time of the Great Stink. With cholera and depravity never far from the headlines, it’s not only the sewers that smell bad. Novice detective, Campbell Lawless, stumbles onto the trail of Berwick Skelton, an elusive revolutionary, seemingly determined to bring London to its knees through a series of devilish acts of terrorism. But cast into a lethal, intoxicating world of music hall hoofers, industrial sabotage and royal scandal, will Lawless survive long enough to capture this underworld nemesis, before he unleashes his final vengeance on a society he wants wiped from the face of the Earth?”

Marketed as the beginning of a series of historical thrillers, which is set during the mid-nineteenth century, and featuring Metropolitan policeman, Campbell Lawless, aka the Watchman, on his rise through the ranks and his initiation as a spy, author William Sutton spends an inordinate amount of time setting up his world than actually creating an atmospheric thriller. There were points in the book, though well researched, were I pondered where his editor was and why had that person not told Sutton to tone down the trying to achieve the perfect 19th century vernacular and get to the central point of his mystery.  

Sutton does have a great grasp on the history of the time, his London of post-Industrial Revolution comes alive, along with the countries obsession with class (careers of actors on the stage are seen as unseemly, even if they’re popular) during this era. But the book wanders too much from the central mystery, with Lawless in search of the mysterious Berwick Skelton (who becomes the books red herring) and encountering people whom seem willingly to info dump on a massive scale when asked. We also get introduced to the Worms, a sort of group of kids right out of Great Expectations (we also get cameos by Charles Dickens and his daughter). 

In the end, if you are going to market a book as mystery series then it should follow (somewhat) the formula of the genre. Sure there are themes within the book, metaphors that still affect us in present day –gangs, class, and racism- but this book becomes more of a travel log/history book of the Victorian Era. What I thought I was getting was a mystery set  during the reign of Queen Victoria, instead ended up with book that was more history than mystery.

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