A Murderous Romp in Victorian London

The Mangle Street Murders by M. R. C. Kasasian (Open Road Media)

I just received an electronic ARC of The Mangle Street Murders last week and the book was released on Tuesday, so I spent last night racing through it in hopes of posting a timely review. Lucky for me, there’s enough going on in this Holmes-ian tale to make a one-night reading enjoyable.

March Middleton is a recently orphaned young woman, plain of face and quick of mind who has arrived in London to live with a guardian who has appeared in her life rather abruptly. This guardian, Sidney Grice, is a bit like a non-comic, non-drinking W. C. Fields interpretation of Sherlock Holmes: misanthropic, self-righteous, mercenary, and absolutely brilliant. Of course, he does not approve of March’s proclivities for smoking and taking the occasional nip nor does he want her to join him in his work as a personal detective (that’s personal, not private, as he is frequently reminding others who are less precise than he). March, of course is determined to maintain her vices and to join in the detecting.

The book’s first half deals with Grice’s pursuit of a husband accused of his wife’s murder. The man is found guilty and executed, much to the horror of March who is certain he’s innocent. From that point, the plot grows more complicated as March battles with her guardian and worries about her role in this miscarriage of justice.

Kasasian crafts an ending of the satisfactory-unsatisfactory variety. The bad end badly, though not necessarily by legal means, and those defending the law show a willingness to abandon the pursuit of justice when doing so is convenient. In this sense, the book is both a period romp, but also a somewhat more serious piece. That seriousness is also apparent in both the author’s attention to the conditions of London’s poor and in March’s longing for a former fiancé who was a soldier and who—we gather, though we’re never told so specifically—died miserably in India, where March worked as an assistant to her father, a military surgeon.

The book also contains a lovely nod to Conan Doyle, which will be appreciated by fans of Holmes.

In all, this is a good start to what I anticipate will be a series. Grice’s unpleasant character grows wearisome, but a crack or two appear in his armor by the book’s close, and March’s determined independence throughout is a delight. Add this book to the pile of mysteries you save for rainy-day or summer-vacation reading—it will give you several hours’ pleasure.

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