Arrowood

Written by Mick Finlay

Review written by Stephen Thornley

An avid reader, Stephen's knowledge of Crime Fiction is fairly extensive, with The Golden Age is his greatest interest.


Arrowood
HarperCollins
RRP: £12.99
Released: March 23 2017
HBK

Set in 1895 London, a city at the height of its power as the capital of a mighty empire; a London of vast wealth and privilege, but also of incredible poverty and suffering. The city is the home of the World famous consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and also home to Mr William Arrowood, private investigative agent. Holmes handles the society crimes and scandals with tact and the cases of national security with secrecy and diplomacy. Arrowood has the poorer clients with the dirty, mean and low crimes, the ones that rarely appear in the press, tact and diplomacy do not feature high on his agenda.

 

Arrowood is quite the antithesis of his famous investigating colleague. Not for him the detecting of crime using scientific analysis of the most minute of clues. Arrowood by his own admission is an emotional agent, not a deductive agent he sees into people's souls and smells out truth. He is a decipherer of people not of codes. In other words he is a fascinating character.

 

He's a man you can empathize with; here he is trying to operate his business in that very big shadow cast by Holmes. People who come to him do so in the knowledge that if they could afford it they would have gone to Holmes but as they can't afford to - they go to Arrowood. Thus, he lives on the scraps as it were from Holmes' table. For him, and his assistant Norman Barnett, there is no protection from the Law in the status and class of a Gentleman of Private Means as there is for Mr Holmes. Arrowood is a former newspaperman turned private investigator and Barnett a former clerk. When the police want information it can be physically as well as psychologically painful for the two men.

 

Arrowood is engaged by a French woman, Miss Cousture to find her brother who has been working as a pastry chef at a notorious inn called the Barrel of Beef. Miss Cousture thinks her brother has disappeared because he was frightened for his life by something that happened at the Inn. The Barrel of Beef is run by a well-known criminal gang leader Stanley Cream, his gang is rumored to have been responsible for many a murder, but so far the Law has been unable to prove any case against him or his men. The Barrel of Beef and Stanley Cream have bad memories for Arrowood and Barnett, as they are the rocks on which a previous case has foundered.

 

There are also difficulties at home for both men too. Barnett's wife has died of the fever while visiting her sister in Derby leaving him unable to come to terms with the loss. He keeps it to himself unable to tell his friend and employer. Arrowood's wife has left him sometime back, but he still has hopes of her return. His life alone is dramatically changed by the sudden arrival of his missionary sister back to fight poverty, sickness and sin in Southwark and its environs.

 

Can he trust his client? How far should he trust her? What is the truth? What is fiction in the story she has told? When the first employee of the Barrel they speak to, is murdered almost in front of their eyes Arrowood and Barnett fear this case may end as did the previous one in failure.

 

This is an intricately woven plot with threads leading to possible connections with Irish Republicans or Fenians as they were known, with a conspiracy within the police force and to organized crime. The characters are lovingly formed creating a real feeling of that larger than life world of the Victorians. The shabby rooms behind the pudding shop in Coin Street are a reflection of Arrowood and Barnett who are characters with feelings and vulnerabilities. They have all the human frailties; they make mistakes and are all the more interesting for it.

 

Mr Finlay has opened the door into Arrowood's flamboyant Victorian world and his writing will delight.

 



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