reviews: the fourth bear, the last days of newgate and the thief taker

29 06 2009

Three more mysteries read this week.  First, I gave Fforde another try with The Fourth Bear, the second in the Nursery Crimes Division series.  It was a bit hit and miss for me just like the first one.  There was so humour and lots of in-jokes, but I never felt like I had a real shot at figuring out the central mystery, which is fairly key for me when reading a mystery.

The next two mysteries both have to do with a thief-taker character.  The Last Days of Newgate follows Pyke, a bow street runner as he interacts with the underbelly of London in his attempts to bring some of their number to justice.  Thief-takers like Pyke work both sides of the system: helping to punish some while also using the system to benefit their own interests.  In the course of a separate investigation, Pyke becomes involved in the murder investigation of a young couple and their newly born baby.  This investigation involves Protestant and Catholic tensions and leads Pyke into Newgate itself.  I enjoyed Pepper’s novel quite a bit.  It was a page-turner and I read about 3/4 in one sitting.  Pyke is very much an anti-hero, and that creates good tension throughout the novel, though there are some points where he shows less remorse than I really expected. This was just the first in a series, so I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for the others.

When I went to pick my next book, The Thief-taker caught my eye.  Agnes is a cook for the Blanchard family.  She takes on the role of detective after a valuable wine cooler is stolen from the Blanchard’s showroom the night before it is to be delivered and an apprentice is murdered.  The kitchen maid has also disappeared and Agnes tries to find out where she is and if she had any role in the theft of the wine cooler.  Agnes may seem at first an unlikely detective, but Gleason makes sure to give her the mind of a sleuth and to also provide her with a backstory that makes her a sympathetic character.  There’s some romance and the thief-taker in this novel is much more on the dastardly side than Pyke.  Another interesting aspect of Gleason’s novel is the class dynamics – between the Blanchard family and the servants and the hierarchy within the servants themselves.  It was a fairly enjoyable read, though the resolution scene seemed a bit predictable.

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