Review: Arrowood and the Thames Corpses, by Mick Finlay

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Paperback, 400 pages
Expected publication: April 2nd 2020 by HQ
ISBN:0008324522 (ISBN13: 9780008324520)

South London, 1896.

William Arrowood, Victorian London’s less salubrious private detective, is paid a visit by Captain Moon, the owner of a pleasure steamer moored on the Thames. He complains that someone has been damaging his boat, putting his business in jeopardy.

Arrowood and his trusty sidekick Barnett suspect professional jealousy, but when a string of skulls is retrieved from the river, it seems like even fouler play is afoot.

It’s up to Arrowood and his trusty sidekick Barnett to solve the case, before any more corpses end up in the watery depths . . .

My Review

Thanks to the team at HQ for sending me this book and for putting the blog tour together. I have another one for them later in the month, but in an entirely different genre. Due to the current crisis, they’re all working from home so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do any tours for HQ until it’s over, since ebooks mess with my brain weasels, and they’ve already been hyper active recently. As such, I’m savouring my HQ books.

This is the third installment of William Arrowood and Norman Barnett’s adventures, and this time they take to the waters of the Thames. It looks like a straightforward case of professional rivalry with another boat owner, desperate for a share in the day tripper market. But nothing is straight forward and things just seem to keep getting more complicated.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, couldn’t put it down. I think I sat in one position for five hours, and yes I do hurt, I couldn’t even wait until tomorrow morning to write this review, I had to do it straight away. It’s gone midnight. And I hurt a bit. SO this could get … weird.

The setting of bustling, stinking Victorian London floods to life on the page, in all it’s glory and horrors. The author has clearly done a lot of research to make the setting as real and believable as possible.

The characters were refreshingly real, especially the irritating little brats outside Captain Moon’s hovel. The new Inspector has a massive chip on his shoulder, Petleigh is confused, the guvnor is his grumpy, deeply emotional and caring self (but he still can’t stand Sherlock Holmes!), and Norman has a lot of things on his mind. I like Norman, he’s been through a lot and still tries to be a decent human, even if he doesn’t believe that he is. Ettie and Isobel will get them sorted out. I liked SUzie and Belasco, they were so alive.

The plot is complex and kept me fascinated as I tried to work out how all the layers fitted together. I didn’t realise who Feathers was, but I sort of realised what Norman’s secret was, although not how it all fitted into the whole plot until it worked itself out. I think I know who dealt with Chelsea George in the end. The neat way Arrowood and Petleigh played the new Inspector made me laugh.

There’s a depth to the Arrowood books that I don’t often find in historical crime. The author imbues Arrowood with such a depth of feeling and understanding, and makes him flawed and difficult, as he struggles with his loss of social status, his mental illness and his past. Finlay brings into the plots many issues and social questions relevant to the setting and the present, without being heavy handed.

Telling the story through Norman’s eyes we see the flaws that Arrowood can’t see in himself, coloured by Norman’s feelings and his own history as we follow along on their adventures. I truly enjoy these books and like the characters, which is why it is hard for me to get into them, I know something horrible will happen to Norman or Arrowood during the story and I’m scared to get to that point, but when it does I need to race onwards in my reading to find out how they survive.

Thoroughly enjoyable, a must for any historical mystery/crime fiction fan.

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