Yet again I have picked up a book in a series mid-way through. (This is the fourth book in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series)
It was the most incredible thing: a corpse driving an empty hansom cab through the foggy streets of a London evening. And it wasn’t just any corpse but the body of a peer of the realm. This was sheer lunacy. Who on earth would want to unearth a decently buried old chap like Lord Augustus Fitzroy-Hammond? The doctor insisted that his death had been natural. But there was nothing natural about this as far as the police were concerned. Inspector Pitt was determined to reveal the truth, but even he was unprepared for the horrors of greed and exploitation that lay in store.
The painted rouge stood out on her cheeks. Without it she would still have been handsome. “I don’t know anything about no murder!”
I do like a Victorian Mystery. The drama! The powdered makeup and frilly dresses! The gentlemen and the maids! Lord Fitzroy-Hammond of Resurrection Row has been dead and buried three weeks when he turns up sitting atop a hansom cab.
Grave robbing, though a crime, isn’t Inspector Thomas Pitt’s usual fare.
But when the macabre joke is repeated, and the man’s corpse is found sitting in the family pew the Sunday following his second interment, Pitt begins to wonder if perhaps there’s some message in it.
Good bits: Pornography and cadavers pepper this mystery. Entertaining read of only 215 pages (finished in about 4h). The life at the start of the 19th century is well depicted and the characters are given voices and a rounded personality.
The afternoon was much the same: finding one frightened woman after another, ashamed of what she was doing, afraid of being exposed, and yet unable to manage on what sweatshop masters paid and terrified of the workhouse. At all costs they wanted to keep their children out of the institutionalized, regimented despair of the workhouses. They feared losing their children to fostering out, perhaps never to see them again, or even to know if they had survived to adulthood. What was taking off one’s clothes for an hour or two to titillate some anonymous man one would never see again, in exchange for enough money to live for a month?
The book is well written and the dialogue (while not brilliant) does keep the plot moving. When the villain is finally uncovered, the surprise discovery makes for a very entertaining and very Victorian-phrased text snippet:
Looking at St. Jermyn—the recognition of defeat in him while the arrogance remained, the hatred, even now a contempt for Pitt, as if it were chance that had beaten him, ill luck and not anyone else’s skill—he could not see in him any trace of the bizarre imagination, the black grave-wit that had draped Horrie Snipe over his own tombstone, or had set old Augustus in his family pew, Porteous on the park bench, and the unfortunate Albert Wilson to drive a hansom.
He must have known the grave of Wilson would eventually be found, with Godolphin Jones in it. He could not have hoped to escape forever. And his ambitions were long-term. This bill was only a step on the way to high office and all it meant; he did not care about it for itself.
From this reader’s perspective, there is no foreshadowing of the murderer, who is a respected Lord with a bill in the house to Support relief for the trials of work houses. Carlyle his sidekick was evidently also involved, or at least knew about the murders and help cover them up.
Bad bits: The editing is a bit of in certain areas and the story seems messy in the middle. It recovers towards the end but I had to cringe at some of the descriptions. There is some talk about resurrection, about grave robbing and I feel that the mystery was not there. It appeared towards the end like an afterthought.