Shepherd, Lynn - 'Tom-All-Alone's'
It is 1850 and Charles Maddox, unfairly dismissed from London's Metropolitan Police is asked to contact a lawyer, Edward Tulkinghorn, in Lincoln's Inn Fields where his chambers are located. His former boss, Inspector Bucket, had recommended him, as Tulkinghorn wants to use the services of a good private investigator which Charles is trying to establish himself as. Tulkinghorn wants Charles to locate a man who had been sending strange letters to a client. Charles identifies the unusual scent on the letters as emanating from a tanning yard. After a lot of visits to tanning yards and a lot of questioning in adjacent pubs he establishes that the writer of the letters was most certainly a Cornishman named William Boscawen who has lodging in Bell Yard, Holborn. He imparts this knowledge to Tulkinghorn the lawyer and receives the rest of his fee.
A few days later as he is still thinking about the case, he decides to check out the William Boscawen lodging in Bell Yard, Holborn and is shocked to learn that there has been a fire and all the building is destroyed and the occupants had their throats cut to make sure. He checks it out with contacts he has in the police and is very upset to think that the lawyer used the information that he supplied to get his associates to kill the person concerned. He decides to do some more investigations himself.
Meanwhile, Charles is working on another case which is dealt with alternately and that concerns a missing girl, who is believed to be pregnant and her father has engaged Charles because he feels guilty that his dismissal of his daughter in her hour of need may have led to her disappearance. Also, in this multi-faceted story, there is another thread concerning a young girl named Hester who seems to have lost her parents and to be in a foster home. The relationship she has with the others there, is discussed at length. All these various elements come together to make a compelling conclusion.
TOM-ALL-ALONE'S dwells in a very gothic way with a London that is dark and foggy and its streets rat-infested and very dangerous. The author has culled a lot of the elements from Dickens' Bleak House, including the names of many of the characters, and there are also references to The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins. The book is a highly imaginative evocation of Victorian England, expertly researched and full of excellent period detail. The plot with dramatic twists and turns kept me transfixed until the last exciting page. Well recommended.
Terry Halligan, England