When Victorian private investigator Nick Romney’s step-father, an Anglican bishop, is murdered, Nick refuses to get involved. At the urging of his family, though, Nick and his lover Davy step in to investigate. Together they uncover the truth of the bishop’s involvement in the dark and horrifying world of child prostitution, the reason why he was killed, and the shocking identity of the murderer.
The setting and the protagonists, 1890 and two men, one of who writes the accounts of the other's detecting, will call to mind Sherlock Holmes and his Watson, something not lost on the author. To quote:
I had only recently read a story entitled "A Study in Scarlet" about a fictional detective, and much as I had enjoyed it, I harbored the suspicion that Romney was twice the detective this other chap was and not nearly as annoying.
I love a well done pastiche, and this novel is not only an echo of that but a well done story in it's own right. Nicholas Romney is no Sherlock Holmes -- he's brilliant and moody, but a more pleasant companion even at his worst. He's far more human, perhaps because of his difficult past, which rises up to poison his present: his horrid stepfather has been murdered and his brother has confessed.
Nothing is ever that simple though, nor should it be -- it would make for a short book! Instead, Rom and his lover, amanuensis, and partner David Fitzhugh Malvern have to assist the police in teasing out the mystery, which brings to light both family secrets and secrets that powerful men and the church would like to keep hidden.
The title is a clue -- much of the misery centers on things done to children and kept hidden, though mercifully the author keeps the deeds off-stage, much as the Victorians did with anything deemed coarse. Light is a cleanser -- Rom's willingness to discuss what others would hide is almost as powerful a tool as his forensic knowledge and deductive powers in solving the murder and more foul crimes.
Rom and Davy have a charming ability to play together, as well as to work together -- if Davy's knowledge of bloodstains is not encyclopedic, his familiarity with the movers and shakers of society and the ways of a churchman are also crucial to resolving the crime.
These two love each other deeply, it shines off the page, even if they do have to spend a certain amount of time looking over their shoulders and worrying that law and mores will land them in jail. That was a good touch -- while Davy's family is accepting, though prone to euphemize, the author doesn't try to rewrite the tenor of the times.
Not everything works out perfectly in the end, a good solution; what isn't neatly wrapped is recognizable as reality.
There is a trifle of deus ex machina with a handy legacy appearing when it's most useful, and Rom doesn't really contribute a great deal of specialized knowledge of matters outside his family to the solution, but I never really believed in calling snakes back with a whistle anyway.
A fine read. 4.5 marbles