Written by Stephen Wade — Or to give it its full title, A Thief in the Night And Other Adventures of the Septimus Society. By day, Stephen Wade, is a part-time lecturer in creative writing at the University of Hull. He’s also a freelance writer and historian, specialising in crime and military history. A Thief in the Night is his first foray into the crime fiction genre, published by The Mystery Press.
The book, which is set in 1890, opens by introducing the reader to the members of the Septimus Society, which has been founded by members of the fictional London gentleman’s club The Septimus Club. The origins of the club are explained, each member’s forte is described, and it explains how a new, female member has joined the group. Then we’re launched into the stand-alone adventures they embark upon.
The opening story is centred around art fraud, in which wealthy people are duped into parting with their money in exchange for works of art they believe to be by a long-dead artist of some repute. The adventure itself is an entertaining one, with two members of the society going undercover to trap the criminals, but you’re left with a slightly dissatisfied feeling that it ends rather abruptly and could have been developed a little more. The second and third stories feature forgery and an assassination plot.
However, it’s the final three adventures that really stand out. Another Jack opens with a young man being tortured and the discovery of a dead body. Septimus Society member Detective Inspector Edward Carney is called in to investigate what looks like a pretty straightforward case. However, when another body is found, Carney decides a little help from his friends might be a good idea, and it’s Professor Harry Lacey he first approaches. It’s a Ripper-esque affair with a killer who selects his victims based on their proclivities and gives himself the nickname Jack the Jockey.
In The Baron’s Passion the society’s two lady members – Maria de Bellezza and Cara Cabrelli – take centre stage. Cara has been invited to perform at a private soirée, which Baron Dieter von Merhof is due to attend, and Maria is also a guest. When the night itself arrives, Cara discovers that she has caught the eye of the mysterious Baron, who may be involved in a rumoured assassination plot that has come to the attention of Scotland Yard. Cara is forced to use all her skills as an actress to help prevent a murder by finding out the identities of the plotters and their intended target.
The final adventure, The Honourable Man, is about a politician with a flourishing career who finds himself the victim of a ruthless blackmailer intent on destroying his ambitions by revealing the truth about his wife’s past. The Society find themselves not only on the trail of a blackmailer, but also hunting for a man tasked with killing him.
Although it’s an enjoyable read, it does get off to a rather slow start. Stick with it and by the fourth adventure the book really finds its pace and racks things up a notch in terms of gripping your attention. If the final three tales are anything to go by, and if the Septimus Society are to have any further adventures, then it’s definitely a series to watch out for.
The History Press
CFL Rating: 3 Stars