Thursday, September 27, 2018

ARC Review: A Knife in the Fog by Bradley Harper

A Knife in the Fog 
Subtitle: A Mystery Featuring Margaret Harkness and Arthur Conan Doyle
Author: Bradley Harper
Publication: Seventh Street Books (October 2, 2018)

Description: Physician Arthur Conan Doyle takes a break from his practice to assist London police in tracking down Jack the Ripper in this debut novel and series starter.

September 1888. A twenty-nine-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle practices medicine by day and writes at night. His first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, although gaining critical and popular success, has only netted him twenty-five pounds. Embittered by the experience, he vows never to write another "crime story." Then a messenger arrives with a mysterious summons from former Prime Minister William Gladstone, asking him to come to London immediately.

Once there, he is offered one month's employment to assist the Metropolitan Police as a "consultant" in their hunt for the serial killer soon to be known as Jack the Ripper. Doyle agrees on the stipulation his old professor of surgery, Professor Joseph Bell--Doyle's inspiration for Sherlock Holmes--agrees to work with him. Bell agrees, and soon the two are joined by Miss Margaret Harkness, an author residing in the East End who knows how to use a Derringer and serves as their guide and companion.

Pursuing leads through the dank alleys and courtyards of Whitechapel, they come upon the body of a savagely murdered fifth victim. Soon it becomes clear that the hunters have become the hunted when a knife-wielding figure approaches.

My Thoughts: Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle is busy building his medical practice in Portsmouth and writing at night. He has published A Study in Scarlet but is determined not to write more crime fiction. However, his detective Sherlock Holmes does bring him to the attention of the former Prime Minister William Gladstone who wants him to look into the crimes happening in Whitechapel which are terrorizing the area and leaving streetwalkers gruesomely dead.

He is met by J. Wilkins who is one of Gladstone's men and hired for a month to consult with the police to try to track down this criminal. Doyle quickly admits that he based his detective on one of his medical school professors Professor Joseph Bell and that he doesn't have either man's talent for observation.  Wilkins authorizes the hiring of Bell too and also arranges that Doyle and Bell have a "native guide."

Miss Margaret Harkness is one of the new breed of emancipated women. She is an author and freelance journalist and living in the East End doing research for her next book. Doyle is a Victorian man of his age. He's reluctant to visit Miss Harkness's home without a chaperone. He learns that she is hosting a woman who she met in the course of her research. The woman suffers from Phossy jaw which she contracted while working with phosphorus in a match factory.

While being guided in the teeming East End, Doyle comes to admire Miss Harkness's knowledge, courage and resourcefulness. He is taken aback at first by her disguising herself as a young man but soon comes to value her input. He also is learning even more about his professor now that the two can build a new relationship as friends. Bell helps hone Doyle's skill at observation and provides the surgical knowledge necessary to interpret the injuries on the Ripper's victims.

The three of them - Doyle, Bell, and Harkness - begin to think of themselves as the Three Musketeers as they look for clues and try to unravel the mystery of the man who came to be known as Jack the Ripper. The book is filled with historical detail including newspaper articles, messages from Jack, and the tensions filling the East End as the poor British and Irish resent the new Jewish immigrants. The possibility that this murderer might be Jewish has the East End on the verge of riots. The variety of jurisdictions of the police also complicate the hunt as each is territorial and unwilling to cooperate with other forces.

This was a fascinating historical mystery about an interesting time and with very interesting characters. I loved the format with Doyle telling the story about events that happened forty years or so in the past as the only survivor of the Three Musketeers and the only one alive who knows the fate of Jack the Ripper.

Favorite Quote:
At times, it seemed that newspapermen, like streetwalkers, could be found at every street corner, and were no more virtuous (perhaps less so.)
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from Edelweiss. You can buy your copy here.

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