The Devil's Ribbon

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devilsribbonukWritten by DE Meredith — This is the second outing for Victorian forensic scientist Prof Adolphus Hatton and his able assistant, Albert Roumande. Forensic science is still very much in its infancy, but that does not deter our resolute pair from using techniques that may aid them in solving their most dangerous case yet.

It’s 1858 and two years have passed since the grisly events in Devoured, Meredith’s first book. Cholera is sweeping through London and Hatton and Roumande are busy dealing with the growing number of victims succumbing to the disease. Enter Inspector Grey of Scotland Yard, with a body purporting to be another cholera case, but things may not be as they seem. This is evidenced by a highly unusual calling card found in the victim’s mouth.

Unsanitary diseases aren’t the only threat in London. Trouble is brewing in the poverty filled streets known as The Rookeries. Father O’Brian and his gang of Fenians are plotting acts of violence to coincide with the anniversary of an atrocity committed in Drogheda years before. The story opens with a man meeting his demise in his study. Before long another more violent death is discovered in The Rookeries. Are these just random killings or are they connected in some way? As the body count grows, this is just one of the mysteries that Adolphus and Albert must solve.

From the start, it’s clear that forensics at this time were still very experimental. Hatton is a man with an eye for detail, takes time to analyse all of the information before him, and is determined to develop these new investigative methods. He has a great respect for his assistant, Roumande, who as the older man proves to be an invaluable advisor and just as skilled in forensics as Hatton himself. They are a complete contrast to their counterpart from the Yard, Inspector Grey. This man appears to be an arrogant oaf with no qualms about using thuggish tactics and underhand methods to achieve a result that will close the case, regardless of whether or not the true culprit has been apprehended. He’s a character the reader will neither like nor trust.

My first foray into the world of Hatton and Roumand, I found this an engaging and well researched read. It deals with two particularly dark events in Anglo-Irish history with sensitivity and skill. At times the level of gore is quite graphic, so it’s not for the squeamish, but it is necessary as Victorian medicine and pathology were rather grim businesses. This is CSI 19th century style, so techniques were basic and effectively – the reader learns alongside the experts.

This is historical crime that’s not afraid to roll its sleeves up and get covered in blood and guts. If that’s your thing, then this is definitely worth reading. It’s an enjoyable introduction to the series with an excellent sting in the tail. The UK release date is 25 February 2013.

Allison & Busby

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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