Written by Kate Williams – London’s East End in 1840 is the setting for historian Kate Williams’ crime fiction debut, and a killer nicknamed the Man of Crows is striking terror into the hearts of those inhabiting some of the poorest streets in the capital.
A series of brutal murders has occurred. Each of the young female victims has been viciously cut to pieces and their hair cut and fashioned into a beak stuffed into their mouths. Victorian London is painted as a depressingly bleak, dark place with danger lurking around every corner, and a Jack the Ripper-style murderer who has yet to be apprehended.
The Pleasures of Men tells the story of Catherine Sorgeiul, a young woman with a deeply troubled past who has come to live with her uncle in Spitalfields. Isolated and friendless, Catherine becomes absorbed in the details of each of these murders and begins to disappear into a nightmarish world of her own, in which she envisages the murders and the killer’s mindset. However, there is a much darker story running alongside the murders that even Catherine herself cannot imagine.
As her past catches up with her, she struggles to come to terms with events that only gradually become clear to both her and the reader. In some ways, it’s as if she identifies with the killer. She can understand him because she believes herself to be evil and responsible for the deaths of her own parents and younger brother.
At times this isn’t always an easy story to follow, although this may be intentional, helping to heighten the sense of Catherine’s own confusion and general state of mind. In order to understand her, the reader needs to get into her mind, just as she tries to get into the mind of the Man of Crows.
Followers of Kate Williams – whose non-fiction covers royalty through the ages – will be intrigued by her first foray into historical crime fiction.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars