By Lynn Willoughby
By Gaslight – Steven Price
Historical fiction is my favourite genre. This novel has lots of both – lots of history and too much fiction. With that said, Price’s descriptions of the muck and filth in 1800s London, actually made me feel grimy.
This is the story of William Pinkerton, son of the brutal and famous Allan Pinkerton who founded the well know detective agency. Most of the novel takes place in London, around 1885. It is a city of fog, crime and poverty.
There are pages of description about the streets of London, running with filth, the rain, the petty thieves and the hand to mouth children who were such deft pickpockets and survived in gangs. Much of this I skimmed.
The strong start to this 700 page novel kept me going and I was glad I did as the ending was riveting. However, there were many pages in the middle that needed some editing. Overall, it is a great story – especially the role of Alan Pinkerton in the Civil War. He was in charge of a squad of spies that was never acknowledged or on the payroll or accounted for in any way, except to Pinkerton. The Civil War scenes are graphic and gruesome, but it is Pinkerton’s hiring of fourteen year old Edward Shade and sending him across enemy lines that is the root of this story. Helping him on his journey are Ben and Sally Porter – two negro slaves Pinkerton has helped to freedom. They actually go BACK to the south as per Pinkerton’s orders.
The son, William, is in London in 1885 working to find Shade with the help of Scotland Yard. There are murder in the poorly lit dark streets, early forensics, opium dens, hunts through London’s sewers, a seance and formal dinners in luxurious homes. This is an epic story moving from diamond mines in South Africa, to London, to New York, to the Civil War. Pinkerton is an interesting and complex man. “In America there was not a thief who did not fear him.” It piqued my interest trying to figure out the bond between Pinkerton and Shade. What could the greatest detective of his time possibly have in common with a one time Union spy?
- Into That Darkness
- Omens of the Year of the Ox
……………….both of these are books of poetry
Bill Miner was a notable American criminal who served several prison terms for stagecoach robbery. Known for his unusual politeness while committing these robberies he was widely known as “the Gentleman Robber”, or the “Gentleman Bandit”. He is reported to have been the originator of the phrase “Hands Up!”