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by Bruce Alexander
Putnam, October 2003
257 pages
ISBN: 0399150781

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

For one last time we get to stroll the streets of 18th century London with Jeremy, teenage assistant to the legendary Sir John Fielding. We visit some of the most notorious locations in the city: Covent Garden, Seven Dials, and Billingsgate Fish Market among others. We also attend a couple of horse races. We meet singular and quirky people who delight and intrigue us. The book is a brilliant picture of a period of time and a very singular man.

Sir John, the Blind Beak of Bow Street, is investigating several cases with Jeremy's assistance. A number of young girls have disappeared in recent months. These are not children from families with wealth or status who might be ransomed. Then the body of a girl turns up in the Thames river and Dr. Donnelly discovers she has been sexually molested. The investigation into this crime takes Sir John and Jeremy far afield and they are aided by the uncle of the girl, a well-known and highly successful jockey.

The other case also involves the disappearance of a young woman, a one-time friend of Clarissa, servant to the Fieldings and engaged to be engaged to Jeremy. When she returns, she has a strange story to tell and there are questions about whether she is telling the truth.

As always in Bruce Alexander's books, the history is impeccably done, precise, accurate, correct, never overwhelming the story but just enough to put the reader into the time. I feel I know 18th century London through the ten books that Alexander has written. They are a compendium of the time and of the city of London which is really a character in the books.

The characters are well-drawn and authentic. The ongoing series characters have grown with the years. Jeremy is no longer the restless lad who faced Sir John in his court, but a teenager studying the law, ably assisting the magistrate, and acting as his eyes. Sir John is aging, a bit more irascible perhaps, a bit slower of step, but never slower of mind. Clarissa has grown up also and joins Jeremy in assisting Sir John assess some of the witnesses. The characters distinctive to this book are also well-drawn. I especially was attracted to Mr. Deutoronomy, the short man who had made himself famous racing horses.

The plot is tangled and complicated, and Jeremy and Sir John must pick at the strands to see where they lead them. The solution is not especially surprising but the pathway to it is fraught with risk and intrigue and the process of getting there most enjoyable.

Jeremy is telling the story as an adult looking back on what was important to him earlier in his life. He brings a maturity to the story as he tells it, but a adolescent's enthusiasms and emotions to it as he lives it. The language suggests an earlier time than the present but not so much that the reader gets put off by too many unfamiliar phrases and words.

And, always a joy, there is fascinating information about the early history of horse racing in England. It's nice to learn little snippets of information while enjoying a book and solving a crime.

I am sorry we will have no more of these to enjoy but I have to believe that Jeremy is somewhere in our imaginations grown up, a barrister, married to Clarissa, and following all the lessons that Sir John so carefully taught him.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, December 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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