on August 2, 2003
The seventh in Bruce Alexander's series about blind 18th century London magistrate Sir John Fielding, who is a real historical character. "The Color of Death" is the story of a series of burglaries apparently committed by a gang of black men. Like the six books that came before, it is a quick and fun weekend read. Not deep, not thoughtful, not even terribly mysterious as far as pop mysteries go. It's straightforward and forgettable. Enjoy it in a hammock.
THE COLOR OF DEATH is an eminently satisfying mystery. A gang of thieves are ransacking London homes, and the thieves are identified as black men. This throws Sir John into a mystery that has political and social ramifications that only a quick resolution will keep from turning into a major disaster for London's citizens. With an attempt on his life incapacitating him, Sir John turns to his assistant, Jeremy to be the lead investigator on this case. Alexander presents a clever mystery, which portrays a number of this series' regulars in a new light. Even the nature of Sir John and Jeremy's relationship shows some change, allowing Jeremy to show more maturity and giving the reader an intriguing glimpse into what motivates Sir John's gamesmanship. This one is a fine puzzle, which should be enjoyed by any fan of historical mysteries.
on December 2, 2011
THE COLOR OF DEATH, Bruce Alexander's seventh novel in the highly acclaimed Sir John Fielding series, is neither the cozy, lightweight mystery (à la Agatha Christie or Susan Wittig-Albert) nor the historical thriller that many readers might expect. It might more accurately be categorized as an atmospheric and compelling investigation set within a graphic description of 18th century Georgian England.
When London's well-to-do neighbourhoods are faced with a wave of what modern readers may well call violent home invasions, thefts and murders by a gang of apparently black thugs, Alexander's traditional story-telling style shifts from ye olde English police procedural to a sociological examination of prejudice against blacks. The investigation comes very close to home for Bow Street magistrate, Sir John Fielding, and his maturing protégé and amanuensis, young Jeremy Proctor, when one of the criminals shoots Sir John himself and the trail of clues seems to indicate that a friend of the family, Robert Burnham, a black man in the employ of Fielding's long-time friend, Black Jack Bilbo, may be implicated in the crime spree.
THE COLOR OF DEATH, as its predecessors in the acclaimed series did before it, will treat its readers to extraordinary characterization and atmospheric embellishment that brings people, time and place to life with a sparkling vitality and a sense of realism that can hardly be rivaled - the sights, the smells, the sounds, the slums, the prisons, the docks, pubs, outdoor markets, dark alleys, upstairs, downstairs, courts, gaming houses, bordellos, street walkers, poor houses, pickpockets, scamps, cut purses, thieves, and murderers. In short, Bruce Alexander brings a gaslit Georgian London to life with an unrivalled clarity.
It's also quite exciting to witness the early growth of modern jurisprudence; some glimpses of Regency law as it pertains to witness and suspect interrogation; the rather looser use of deadly force in the apprehension of the perpetrators of violent crimes; and, of course, the exciting story of the birth of modern police procedure through the fictionalized account of Sir John Fielding's experiences as the magistrate of Bow Street Court and his leadership of England's first police force, the "Bow Street Runners. Even though slavery had, by this time, been outlawed in Britain, Alexander's narrative showed very clearly that prejudice against the black man was still common place to the extent that unruly, violent lynch mob action against a black man suspected of a crime was still a real possibility.
I've said it before in other reviews of the series but it bears repeating. While each novel in the series can be read as a stand-alone mystery, maximum enjoyment will be the reward for the reader who takes the time to go back to the beginning and read the entire series in order. There is definitely a background story line to all of the characters, their development, their personal growth and their outlook on the world around them. In this novel in particular, for example, Jeremy begins the process of maturing from a boy to a man and is becoming aware of his own sexuality, the growing attractiveness of his housemate, Clarissa Rowntree, and the powerful allure of a woman's body and its possible use as a persuasive tool in flirtation.
A highly recommended novel in a terrific ongoing series.
on August 4, 2007
This is a Sir John mystery by Bruce Alexander. There are several in the series and the characters are ongoing. This story is about robberies in upper class London in the mid 1800s and Sir John and Jeremy solving it.
The story opens with a robbery and a death in nearby St. James Street. Sir John and Jeremy respond to the summons to be present as the police question the witnesses. As they are returning home, Sir John is wounded in the shoulder and for the rest of the story, Jeremy must gather facts and interview witnesses alone. At the end, Sir John, using these facts and other information he gleans, solves the case.
I felt this book presented the problems of slaves in the British Empire in a historical and yet sympathetic manner. Sir John, although blind, gathers information and makes deductions that are worthy of Sherlock Holmes.
There was a kaleidoscope of minor characters, most of which were just touched upon and I found it confusing when they were referred to later in the book. There were several Bow Street runners, household staffs for several homes and then the gang of outlaws. Also in the first chapter, Jeremy and Clarissa go to visit a neighbor and there are several pages devoted to the advice she receives. We then don't see Clarissa again for several chapters and in the rest of the book she plays a very minor role.
This is my first Sir John Fielding mystery and I intend to read more of them. The plot was interesting, the background intriguing and the main characters, Sir John and Jeremy, were well portrayed.
on June 3, 2007
I am a big fan of the Sir John Fielding series, and each book seems to get better and better. Jeremy Proctor is the most appealing little sleuth out there, and in this book he gets the chance to shine a little on his own because his mentor, Sir John Fielding, has been wounded by a bullet when he and Jeremy arrive at a house where a massive robbery and a murder have taken place. Alexander does a masterful job of capturing his period, and his characters are realistic and totally likeable. I cannot wait to read the next book in this series.