A Victorian Detective for Our Times

Children of the Tide: A Victorian Detective Story, by Jon Redfern, (Dundurn), 296 pages, release date March 24, 2015

Children of the Tide is the second novel featuring inspector Owen Endersby, though it’s the first novel in I’ve read in this series—and I am hoping it will be a many-volumed series. While the book is set in Victorian London, Endersby is one of those characters whose views bridge his purported time and our own, allowing for a commentary on life in Victoria’s England that is perhaps a bit modern in its outlook, but that is also sympathetic and not unbelievable.

Endersby critiques the norms of his time, while living comfortably within them. In this case, he is investigating the murders of two workhouse matrons and the aborted kidnapping of two workhouse girls, both named Catherine. Early on we’re told “Any mention to [Endersby] of workhouses and their cruelty to children roused a deep anger in his heart. Many times he had passed the filthy courtyards of the city’s eight workhouses and seen their young inmates marching around them in circles, their faces wan, their eyes sad like those of inmates he’d seen in the yard of Fleet Prison.” Once inside one of these workhouses, Endersby reflects: “What sorrow pervades the morning light…. What thin hands and thin bodies are arrayed on the rows of beds. Why does our time treat women so cruelly?” Whether or not such questions were typical of his time, they are worth asking.

Endersby began his career as a Bow Street Runner, more concerned with seeing someone convicted of a crime than with finding the actual perpetrator. Now, as a member of the city’s new police force, he is more cautious and contemplative, more interested in uncovering what has happened than he is in quickly finding someone, anyone on whom to place the blame. He talks his way through a crime as if it were one of the wooden puzzles he amuses himself with during the evenings.

Endersby is also a theater-goer with a particular love of Shakespeare. Children of the Tide contains echoes of both Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In fact, the first Endersby mystery (which I’ve just ordered through my local, independent bookseller) takes place within the theater world. I’m eager to read it.

Jon Redfern has plotted this mystery well, with a number of tantalizing solutions hanging for readers to pluck like a bunches of ripe grapes. And because Redfern leaves so many possibilities open, the reader really does remain in doubt until the finish of the book. Redfern and Endersby are a gift to readers of mysteries and historical fiction—I urge you to open these books and to enjoy them for yourself.