The year is 1885 and there is a seedy undercurrent running throughout the city of London. Detective William Pinkerton has a lead on the elusive thief Edward Shade but now that lead is dead, her severed head having been discovered in the Thames. Another person has been looking for the same lead but for entirely different reasons: Adam Foole has returned to London in search of his lost love only to discover her fate. When the two men cross paths, both are forced to confront their pasts, dredging up some memories that would be better off forgotten.
In By Gaslight, Steven Price has succeeded in creating an incredibly atmospheric view of Victorian London that is very reminiscent of Arthur Conan Doyle. You can almost hear the sounds of the horses and the smell of the Thames, such is the description. It was no surprise, therefore, to learn that the author is more well-known as a poet. It is not just set in London, however, as the story moves, occasionally, back in time, dealing with the likes of the American Civil War and the South African diamond trade. Although these parts were integral to the plot, I enjoyed them the least, preferring any chapter that was based on Pinkerton’s pursuance of Edward Shade.
Towards the end, when the plot lines all converge, it was hard to put down as I was eager to know the outcomes of all the main characters. I would have, however, liked to have known what became of Molly, Foole’s child accomplice. Despite her being on the wrong side of the law, she was a very likeable character with a harrowing back story.
My only criticism of this book would be the length – at 730 pages long, I felt that some of the text could have been omitted. Another small criticism would be author’s understanding of the value of money in 1885 – twice a messenger was paid £5 to undergo a simple task. In 1885, this would have been a huge amount of money; it would have been unlikely for this amount to have been given!
If you enjoy the Anthony Horowitz Sherlock Holmes novels, then this book is definitely for you.
With thanks to GoodReads and Oneworld Publications for the copy of the book.