Set in the 1880s this is a historical crime novel and I must admit I was impressed with the social detail that surrounds this tale. Inspector Frey of London’s Scotland Yard finds himself surplus to requirements (loses his job) and after a falling out with his intended the engagement is called off too. Finding himself jobless and seeing little in the way of prospects for him in London, Frey decides to take a job that is offered him in Edinburgh, Scotland as part of a new unit that examines acts that are pertained to have been carried out by supernatural forces.
On his arrival in Edinburgh, Frey meets his new partner, for Inspector ‘Nine Nails’ McGray. Next to the dapper Frey with his London clothes and expectations, McGray is a brusque, no nonsense Scot who has grown up on the streets and is ready with his fist and his tongue. The unlikely pair start to investigate a copycat Jack the Ripper murder that has recently taken place of a violinist murdered in a locked room in a particularly gory way. Other murders follow in quick succession and the reader is drawn into the mystery of how it would be possible for a living person to have carried out these murders. The gothic and macabre events that follow give credence to the possibility that these are in fact supernatural events and the dark and grimy streets that were the underbelly of Edinburgh’s poorest parts of society are a perfect backdrop to the events that follow.
Personally, although I really enjoyed the depth of historical detail in this novel and was fascinated by the descriptions of clothing and food as well as the housing and society, I did find the character of Frey annoyingly staid and stuffy. I do not particularly like novels written in the first person and as the narrator; Frey’s thought processes annoyed me at times. I wasn’t that fond of McGray either although I did think his character was realistic but the problem with strong accents in novels is that they can stop the reader from getting fully engrossed in the text and McGray’s ‘ken’ and ‘muckles’ did interrupt the flow of the story for me.. However, the mystery is well crafted and reminds me of the locked room mystery beloved by Sherlock Holmes. The narrative twists and every time I thought I knew what was happening another turn put me off the scent. This would not have read as well if it had been set in modern times but the Victorian era, with its prejudices and fancies, is exactly right for this tale. It appears from the ending that this will be a series of books with Frey and McGray as the protagonists. I will be interested to read more of these as the detailed accounts of Victorian Edinburgh alone was well worth the effort.