I missed The Arnifour Affair, but The Bellingham Bloodbath is the second in what appears to be a new alphabet series (as in Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone mysteries).
Colin Pendragon is a private investigator operating in post-Ripper Victorian London; his partner, Ethan Pruitt, is also his life partner, and they share a home. I’m not convinced that this could ever have happened, but let’s just suspend that disbelief for the sake of the story. Ethan, who’s the narrator, has an interesting past, including having lived as a child in a drug den with an older woman who cared for him in every way except to provide any affection. Colin rescued the drug-addled young man from this fate, and they now work together to solve mysteries.
Pendragon is the public face of the team. He’s famous, and so when an officer in the Queen’s own guard is brutally murdered, along with his wife, Colin is retained by Her Majesty’s Home Guard, neatly cutting out Scotland Yard — whose reputation was still suffering because of the unsolved Jack the Ripper murders.
It’s not clear that anyone in the guard really wants the case solved, though, given how quickly they either become enraged or clam up upon questioning. Everyone insists that Capt. Bellingham was a wonderful man, a perfect officer, and a good friend. Yet someone tortured him without mercy before he died. Ethan finds the first clue when he learns that Bellingham and several other officers had been involved in a bar brawl with a group of Irish guardsmen in which one man had been killed.
There’s a strong element of ticking-clock investigation here, as Colin has rather rashly agreed to solve the crime in a few short days or face the London press to parrot the Guard’s official version of what happened: his perfect record in solving crimes has made him a most credible source.
The book reads quickly and easily, and Pendragon is an astute investigator who often picks up on things that his partner misses. Unlike Sherlock and Watson, though, Pruitt often unearths highly significant clues, without which the case could not be solved. The Victorian setting is given a turn by forcing the detectives to hide so much of themselves while uncovering private things about the people they investigate. It’s a different take on what is otherwise well-covered territory, and I enjoyed it.
I read an advance review copy of Gregory Harris’ The Bellingham Bloodbath provided by the publisher via NetGalley.