Written by David Stuart Davies — David Stuart Davies is the creator of the wartime private detective Johnny Hawke, and the DCI Paul Snow series. On top of his crime writing, he also edits the CWA’s monthly magazine Red Herring, and Sherlock Magazine. He’s a Sherlock Holmes expert, and so it’s not too surprising that his latest creation – Luther Darke – has quite a few things in common with Conan Doyle’s great detective and operates in the same milieu, that of Victorian London.
We’re introduced to Darke through seven stories. They’re compact, stand-alone pieces and you can dip in and out, which makes the book perfect for that daily commute to work. The Chronicles open with The Curzon Street Conundrum, a tale designed to introduce you to Luther Darke, who is both a portrait painter and an amateur sleuth. He has two sidekicks – girlfriend Carla, and Inspector Edward Thornton of the Yard. While Thornton seems a little like Lestrade and Watson rolled into one, Carla feels more like Agatha Christie’s character Tuppence Beresford with a dash of Dorothy L Sayers’ Harriet Vane.
Darke himself is an unusual character. Far from impoverished, as you’d expect a portrait painter to be, he seems to have an income that enables him to dine in the very best restaurants and reside in Manchester Square, an area with some decidedly expensive properties. However, we’re told nothing of his background, which adds a certain air of mystery. As the book progresses you’ll get small insights into Darke’s persona – astute, logical, theatrical. All in all, a likeable character.
However, the Darke Chronicles doesn’t manage to hit the ground running. The first two stories have long-winded, cliche-riddled introductory sections without much whiff of mystery. Eventually the stories do develop, but it’s only by the third one, The Mystery of the Missing Black Pearl, that the writing starts to grow in confidence and pick up pace.
On the whole, it’s not a bad read. The clues are fairly visible, so you can play the sleuth alongside Darke if you want to flex the little grey cells, which is always rather satisfying. The two stories that really stand out are The Riddle of the Visiting Angel and The Curse of the Griswold Phantom. Both draw not just on the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but his interest in spiritualism. In The Riddle, a man is convinced that an angel is appearing to him with messages from his dead wife. The Curse, meanwhile, takes up on a local legend, using it to explain why a dog and a young woman have been found decapitated.
If you’re looking for some light entertaining reading that harkens back to Sherlock Holmes a little, then The Darke Chronicles is certainly worth a punt. It’s already available in paperback in the UK, but US readers have just a little longer to wait, as its not due to be released there until June.
The Mystery Press
CFL Rating: 3 Stars