Written by Linda Stratmann –– There seems to be a great appetite for crime fiction set in Victorian times at the moment, and we’ve recently reviewed The Strings of Murder, The Infidel Stain and, of course, the strangely titled Sherlock Holmes and the Eye of Mad Bear. In The Children of Silence we step back in time once again, this time to Victorian London for the latest Frances Doughty mystery by Linda Stratmann. This is the fifth book in the series and we’ve previously reviewed An Appetite for Murder.
It begins when a body is found in the freshly drained Paddington Canal Basin. The remains are decidedly old, but it soon becomes clear that the unnamed victim’s throat was cut before he or she was unceremoniously dumped into the murky depths. Seven months on, and the investigators are no nearer to finding out who the unfortunate victim is – although the shape of the skull leads them to believe he is male. It is a case that Frances Doughty, Bayswater’s only lady private detective, has followed with interest, never thinking she would have any involvement in it. That changes when her services are engaged by Mrs Harriett Antrobus, whose husband has been missing for three years. Could the skeletal remains belong to Edwin Antrobus?
That’s a question that takes a heck of a lot of answering, but Miss Doughty is the lady for the job. In fact, as the book progresses she is the lady for any number of jobs! It’s lucky that she has tough-girl assistant Sarah to help share the load, or the doughty Miss Doughty would be working all hours.
Frances is a cross between Hercule Poirot and Mma Precious Ramotswe, who uses both her little grey matter and good old common sense to get to the bottom of things. The daughter of a dispensing chemist, she has a knowledge of a great many things, and is not afraid to go out and dig deeper when the occasion warrants it. The ‘children of silence’ of the title are deaf youngsters who play a vital role in the narrative’s progression. Frances and Sarah even learn some rudimentary sign language – something that is banned at the school which the children attend as the pupils are encouraged to lip read and speak. At the end of the book, I was shocked and surprised to learn that this really happened in the 1880s.
This book scores highly on historical detail, with well drawn and accurate descriptions of life in the latter part of the 19th century – so well drawn, in fact, that you can almost smell the putrid canal basin and hear the hubbub of life in the capital. Which is vital in a book which has a hyperacusis sufferer at its heart. Mrs Antrobus is afflicted with the illness, which means everyday sounds are painful to her, making her a virtual recluse. Indeed, you could consider her to be another ‘child of silence’. The depiction is all the more fascinating when you learn that the author herself has suffered from hyperacusis and tinnitus for many years.
The Children of Silence moves at a steady, sometimes ponderous pace which means it may not appeal to fans of fast-moving, modern crime fiction, but makes a pleasant change for anyone who may occasionally prefer to drop down a few gears. The book is the fifth in the Frances Doughty series and fans of this lady detective in particular, and historical crime fiction in general, will not be disappointed.
The Mystery Press
CFL Rating: 3 Stars