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Bucket's List: A Victorian mystery (A Charley Field Mystery) Kindle Edition
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I have to give author Gary Blackwood credit for trying to do something different with a mystery novel. This one is set in Victorian London, 1853 to be precise, and features Charley Field, retired Inspector of the Detective Branch of the police force. When Charley retired he decided to become a private inquiry agent but the clients haven't exactly been thick on the ground. Charley's friend, Charles Dickens, suggests that he needs something to call attention to his business and changing the name will do the job. After all, Charley is the police inspector Dickens used to pattern his Inspector Bucket after for his novel Bleak House. Why not take advantage of that free publicity?
The story is told by a narrator using present tense who tells readers at the beginning of the novel that he cannot be trusted to always tell them the truth. Charley is presented as a kind of Sherlock Holmes expert at deduction because he can look at someone and tell where they are from, what kind of work they do and what their problem is. This "ability" didn't work nearly as well for Mr. Blackwood as it did for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The title comes into play because Charley made up a list of those-who-got-away while he was on the force but who can be pursued now that he isn't tied to the force. Therefore - Bucket's List is where Charley goes to look to match the description he has for a likely suspect in a murder disguised as a suicide. This murder is the main thread of investigation in the novel, but there are many other mysteries large and small which occupy Charley's attention. In this case, more is not better.
Victorian London is shown well in all its sprawling grime and glory with Charley spending his days and most of his nights going from one problem, large or small, to another which needs righting or solving. The story was muddled by being sent in so many directions at the same time and by keeping me from being able to tell if some of it was tongue in cheek or if it was supposed to be serious. There are a large number of characters remaining after all the mysteries are solved and Charley has a mission to help orphaned children being used as slave labor in mills. Those are indicators that there is plenty of material which can be used in future novels.
This is a fun period mystery, introducing a handful of characters who are well written and believable. There are poignant reminders of the social inequalities and conditions for the poor and exploited in Victorian London. The book manages to avoid being preachy despite the serious and melancholy nature of Charley's investigations, including the murder of a friend who's a prostitute.
He enlists help from several friends including Isam Jones, a chemist turned photographer (and former counterfeiter), who provides a nice scientific counterpoint to Charley's more traditional investigative methods. He's also aided by a young constable named Mull whom I hope to see in upcoming books.
There are a number of interwoven story-lines in this book. The plotting and dialogue are comfortable and believable. The author manages to sew up most of the subplots while leaving enough loose threads to lay the groundwork for an overarching plotline which will support the following volume(s).
I'm a huge fan of period mysteries, especially Victorian and Edwardian English mysteries, so this was right to my taste. Other fans of period London will likely also enjoy this holiday mystery.
Three and a half stars.
Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher.