In the underbelly of 19th century London, the downtrodden and overlooked don’t have the same access to the protections and justice offered to the higher echelons of society. So while Holmes searches out treasure and unravels mysteries worthy of front page news, those living in the slums and sewers have only one recourse open to them – William Arrowood and his hired muscle Norman Barnett.
Living a hand to mouth existence themselves, Arrowood and Barnett are desperate for work, feel the impacts of their vices both financially and mentally and find themselves emotionally raw when it comes to relationships and family.
So when Captain Moon and his daughter come to them with a seemingly straightforward tale of professional rivalry and sabotage, the sleuths for hire jump at the chance to earn some earn and much needed cash. But they are not prepared for the web of murder and revenge in which they find themselves entangled.
Arrowood and the Thames Corpses by Mick Finlay is a mystery thriller for fans of historic crime: it’s no mistake that it’s set in the same universe as Sherlock, but it does offer more depth than any Arthur Conan Doyle tale I’ve read. While I enjoy a Holmes classic, I always get frustrated by the conclusions based on the flimsiest of assumptions, the giant leaps of logic and the thin characterisation. Arrowood fixes all those problems for me.
The puzzle is as complex and maze-like as you would expect, but the route to unravelling it is logical, believable and heartbreakingly tragic in some places. Neither Arrowood nor Barnett are overly likeable, drowning as they are in their self-pity, ego and often brutal manipulations of the surrounding characters, but they are fully realised, flawed men and their breadth of character pulls you into the story and engages you fully.
At times, the wealth of supporting characters can get confusing, especially the burly men and characters whose threads are left hanging. But the stench and poverty of London’s darker side is tanglible and the tragedy of people, particularly children, who are trying to scrape some semblance of a life together in the face of constant fear and danger is particularly well depicted.
Some revelations you will see coming a mile away, but mostly the information is provided on a need to know basis, allowing the story to unfold and most of the reveals to happen as Arrowood and Barnett themselves figure them out.
All in all, a grim, dark but satisfyingly escapist crime mystery.
Arrowood and the Thames Corpses was published on 2 April 2020 and is available now.