Today’s foray into the underbelly of human society is The Secrets of Gaslight Lane, by M.R.C. Kasasian, which is the fourth book in the Gower Street Detective historical, humorous mystery series. I have not read any of the previous books in the series, but saw this one on Netgalley and decided to have at it because the blurb looked reasonably enticing. Allow me to present said blurb, from Goodreads:
London, 1883: All is quiet at 125 Gower Street. Sidney Grice is swotting up on the anatomical structure of human hair whilst his ward, March Middleton, sneaks upstairs for her eighth secret cigarette of the day. The household is, perhaps, too quiet.
So, when a beautiful young woman turns up at the door, imploring London’s foremost personal detective to solve the mystery of her father’s murder, Grice can barely disguise his glee.
Mr Nathan Garstang was found slaughtered in his bed, but there is no trace of a weapon or intruder. A classic locked-room case. But what piques Grice’s interest is the crime’s link to one of London’s most notorious unsolved murders. Ten years ago, Nathan’s uncle aunt and servants were murdered in their sleep in the very same house.
Now, it seems, the Garstang murderer is back…
Before I get into the plot of this one, I should probably explain that Sidney Grice is an established personal (not private!) detective who lives with his ward and goddaughter, March Middleton, and a half-witted maid named Molly who is too stupid to be believed as a character. There is also a cat. Clearly, there is an enormous amount of relational information between the two main characters that has been dealt with in the previous books and despite the fact that none of it is rehashed here, I found it fairly easy to understand what was going on and who was who. So, to the plot. Essentially, a murder takes place in the same house and in the same fashion as a previous murder, and suspects are scarce. That’s all you need to know, really.
The Usual Suspects:
Given that this is set up in the manner of a locked-room mystery, the suspects are limited to those who were in the house at the time and those who may have possibly had access to the house at the time. This includes the daughter of the deceased, all the household servants, including one who had been present during the first murders many moons ago, and a missing lunatic who had also been one of the household retainers during the time of the previous murder.
The Hunt for the Murderer/s:
I wouldn’t say the hunt for the murderer/s is convoluted, because it is fairly easy to follow, but it is extremely drawn out. Grice conducts his investigations, much like Poirot, by talking to all concerned and then some, and this pretty much comprises the whole of the novel. I would have to say that the final reveal was a little anti-climactic after all this talking and searching as the murderer/s decide to come quietly and relate their part in the dastardly deeds at some length.
Three poison bottles for the simple blessing that dead men tell no tales
I don’t really know what to make of this one as a whole. It had some appealing elements, but overall it was, in my opinion, at least two-thirds longer than it needed to be. It’s one of those tomes that I describe as “hefty” – when applied to books read on a digital device, this refers to stories that one feels as if one has been reading for hours upon hours, yet the little percentage counter at the bottom of the screen barely ticks over. Had this book been considerably shorter, I would have enjoyed it much more. The bits that I would have liked to have seen cut out were the pointless interactions, mostly featuring Molly – the idiot maid – that seem to have been included for comic relief. The fact that Molly was so dense that it was difficult to believe such a dunderhead could exist soured these exchanges for me somewhat.
On the other hand, the banter between Grice and Middleton was quite funny and kept me turning the pages beyond the point at which I would normally have given up. Grice has no consideration for the feelings of others and so much of the comedy rests on his insulting the other characters. Middleton makes up for this somewhat and plays the straight man to Grice’s outrageous behaviour, yet also manages to keep some outrageous behaviours for herself.
The ending is reasonably complex, with aspects from the earlier murder playing a part in the second, as one might expect. The story is not really written in a way that invites the reader to guess along as to who the murderer might be, but instead, I felt, focuses more on the relationships between the characters. While overall I am reasonably ambivalent toward this particular mystery, I would be interested in reading the first in this series to discover the beginnings of this unlikely duo.
Until next time,