Written by JC Briggs — Jean Briggs first came up with the idea for her Dickens and Jones series back in 2012, during the celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. Dickens wrote numerous articles on the police during his lifetime, and created two detectives of his own – Inspector Bucket in Bleak House, and private detective Nadgett in Martin Chuzzlewit. He explored the psychology of the murderer, the plight of the Victorian poor, and was extremely familiar with the nooks and crannies of London. In 1846, Dickens established Urania Cottage with Angela Burdett-Coutts, a house for fallen women and girls, and it is here that the first book in this new series that Patience Brooke meets her fate.
It’s 1848, and the matron of Urania Cottage, Mrs Georgina Morston, has just found a corpse attached to the railings at the back of the establishment under her charge. Patience Brooke has been brutally murdered and her body left in a state that seems to imply she was less than she was believed to be. Unlike Urania Cottage’s other residents, Patience Brooke was not a fallen woman, in fact her arrival was as much a mystery as the reason for her killing. What is clear, is that whoever murdered Patience Brooke wanted to humiliate her in a way they may have been unable to do in life – but why?
Nothing of Patience’s life before Urania Cottage is known. She was a quiet girl who was well liked by the matron and her small staff. Her killing makes no sense, but when Mrs Morston calls in Charles Dickens and his friend Superintendent Jones for assistance they determine that the real question is, ‘Who was Patience Brooke?’ This is a case that will see Dickens and Jones weaving their way round the alleys and passageways of London’s West End and the City, and up to the North of England. Along the way they meet a variety of characters who bear a distinct resemblance to many of those created by Dickens.
As their investigation progresses, a picture of Patience’s life begins to form. Her story is a sad one, but telling it is dangerous, with footsteps and a sinister rhyme wafting through the fog, creating a menacing atmosphere. It’s clear the killer is determined to prevent the truth being told, and is prepared to kill anyone who might be able to reveal his identity. This is a man who has little respect for human life and takes it for nothing more than his own gratification.
The nice thing about this book is that the characters almost step off the page as you read. The story is told in the first person but the reader enters both the world of the writer and the detective, so you can see how Dickens may have got the ideas for his own writing. Both Dickens and Jones have tragedy and pain in their own pasts, so they show a touching empathy towards the victim.
Another aspect of this novel that adds to its enjoyability is the fact that it feels very much like a traditional gaslight mystery, with footsteps in the fog, an unseen person with sinister voice singing a well-known tune. The constant feeling of being followed and imminent danger around every corner. Put all these elements together and it creates just the right amount of suspense.
At 284 pages, this is an extremely quick and engaging read that fans of Lynn Shepherd’s novels are sure to enjoy. With two further books awaiting publication – A Death at Hungerford Stairs, and Murder By Ghostlight – and a fourth novel currently being written, Jean Briggs is proving herself to be a crime writer to watch out for.
The History Press
CFL Rating: 5 Stars