The Mangle Street Murders
March Middleton is an engaging young woman with an independent turn of mind. After her father's death she travels to London to live with a guardian who says he owes a debt to her father.
Sidney Grice, the guardian, is a much older man and a feted personal detective. He is small of stature, has a bad leg, and a glass eye that tends to pop out when he becomes excited. Grice values money and his reputation; he is irascible, arrogant, and supercilious. Although he mentions March's mother and a debt owed to her father, these are secrets that are evidently to be kept for another installment.
It surprises me that March is so incurious about the relationship Grice had with her family, but she quietly accepts Grice's unwillingness to give further explanation.
When a beautiful woman approaches Grice in an attempt to persuade him to prove the innocence of her son-in-law in her daughter's murder, Grice turns her down because she cannot afford his fees. March is sympathetic and intercedes, offering to pay the fee herself.
Grice expects payment; March wants justice. The pattern for their relationship is established, and since she is paying the fee, March insists on participating in the investigation.
As the investigation proceeds, Grice is of the opinion that the man is guilty, and March is just as adamant that the man is innocent.
The trial results in a guilty verdict, but in some ways this is only the beginning.
There is a cameo appearance by Arthur Conan Doyle in his role as a doctor, which fits right in as Grice is a play on Sherlock Holmes. Not that March functions in the role of Watson, she challenges Grice and certainly has none of Watson's hero worship for Holmes. Grice is much too concerned with reputation and financial reward, but like Homes, he does appreciate an intellectual puzzle. He simply doesn't want to engage without remuneration.
Inspector Pound is no Lestrade, and he does make a fine third to the disagreeing duo of Grice and March. I also liked Harriet Fitzgerald, who has a small role as something of a bluestocking. I hope she figures larger in the next adventure.
Kasasian provides some funny moments and some vivid details of life in areas far from the middle- and upper-classes of London. There is also an interesting allusion to the urban legend of Springheel Jack.
At times, I found March too naive and Grice too acerbic and patronizing. Nevertheless, The Mangle Street Murders shows great promise as a new series. The Gower St. Detectives series has a lot going for it!
Historical Mystery. Feb. 2014. Print version: 291 pages.