Wednesday, December 27, 2006


The best Christmas present, nay, the best present of anytime of year is the discovery of a new mystery series. It is , literally and figuratively, the gift that keeps on giving the year over.

Most of you know that I have recently acquired a job writing Children's and YA reviews. As such, I have been spending my time reading and researching for my soon-to-be-published young adult reviews. It seems quite some time ( maybe even two weeks ! egad !) since I picked up a "big people book" and read it straight through. I was delighted ( thus ) to have acquired a copy of Will Thomas' splendid debut novel Some Danger Involved while book shopping out of town yesterday afternoon.

There is only one thing better than reading a superb book written for my own age cover to an oasis after a desert ( a FUN desert, nonetheless filled with camels and trees and stuff ) of kiddy is finding a book written for my own age that has VICTORIAN DETECTIVES !!

It has been an age since I have discovered a mystery series I would gladly follow to the ends of the earth. I have been reading the most recent contributions to many a worthy canon but a NEWBIE?!! I honestly cannot remember the last detective I fell so quickly for. Most of the time when I waddle in mysteriophile land, I am wading in the waters of trueblue friends I have known for years. A new friend? Brilliant.

Many reviewers are commenting on Thomas' throw back to the Doyle canon; an easy parallel, I assure you, since his mysteries are set in the gastlit realm of Victorian England. Yet, the Sherlock and Watson motif does not quite resonate here. I am set immediately in mind of ( eep!) Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Thomas Llewellyn, a petite Welshman, is on the verge of suicide when he discovers an ad in the paper which leads him to a prospective employer ( the brilliant, bright and enigmatic Cyrus Barker ) and an office filled with Oriental goodies and books top-to-floor. Beating out dozens of hopefuls for the position of inquiry agent, Llewellyn is fashioned for his new position; clothes, food and (best of all ) room and board. In a house that is the Victorian equivalent of Wolfe's brownstone populated by an eccentric French cook, and oriental garden, a cute dog and a Jewish Butler named Mac, Llewellyn finds a true home unique to his former circumstance.

Nero Wolfe indeed---- yet the warm and puzzling Cyrus Barker is not the sedentary Wolfe, yet a trained roundabout man who prowls the streets and alleys of London knowing everything and everyone ( he refers to the bustling realm as his "web"; he is eyes and ears to everything ). Though his knowledge of Oriental fighting techniques recalls Sherlock Holmes' boxing manouevers and aplomb for stick fighting, Barker ends the similarities there. He is much kinder to his assistant than Holmes and much more likeable and self-effacing.

The first story in the series I am rushing out to buy as soon as this post is over, takes us into the East End of London, to the Jewish quarter, to a place that immediately puts one in mind of Eliot's Daniel Deronda. It is atmospheric, funny and narrated by a smart and scintillating story-teller who has ( as Thomas proclaims ) a George Gissing-like past.

Well done. I am intrigued, engaged, excited and everything else in the world !

Would talk more but am off to acquire more of the recent Will Thomas canon!

oh. And Will Thomas has a blog.


Anonymous said...

What a cool job! I love YA and childrens fiction!

Anonymous said...

You know that one of the last things I need to add to my ever growing list is a new mystery series. I'm adding it never-less because you make it sound so engaging. Thanks for the great review.

Anonymous said...

I have a couple of his books, too, but I have yet to read them. I will have to move the first to the top of the pile, now! It is nice to read a good review before diving in!