Some Danger Involved: A Novel (Barker & Llewelyn, Vol. 1), by Will Thomas
This is the first of a series of detective stories set in late 19th Century London originally published in 2004. It introduces two new detectives: Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn.
Barker is an established consulting detective working in London. While some of his background is revealed through the book it’s less clear what his relationship is with Scotland Yard. Thomas Llewelyn was born into poverty in Wales but showed exceptional skills in school and was sponsored through “public school” (English private school) and a start at Oxford. He’s also spent some time in prison, for reasons better revealed by the author at the appropriate time.
The book centers around the murder of a Jewish man found crucified on a telegraph pole. Barker and his new assistant are hired by a leading rabbi of the Jewish community (conveniently related to Baron Rothschild) to get to the root of the murder. Because of the expanding population of Jewish refugees from the pogroms of Russia and Eastern Europe there have been increasing incidents of anti-Jewish actions and speeches in London. Not unlike refugee infusions in other times and places the newly arrived Jews are accused of taking jobs away from native English.
Hill gives both detectives interesting histories. Barker is the son of missionaries who traveled to and died in China, leaving Barker to fend for himself at age 11. Some of his struggle to survive are told through the book, other things are a bit more mysterious, such as who might have taught him to throw an English penny with deadly accuracy. He clearly has other martial arts skills. Despite his coming across as somewhat surly in the book he’s open minded and unprejudiced about his Jewish clients and still speaks Mandarin like a native, allowing him access to the Chinese community in Limehouse as well.
Barker also keeps an interesting cook and butler in his employ, a French chef who met Barker in China and a clearly gay butler who is quick to back up his employer with a shotgun when needed. There are other interesting side characters woven through the book that are rarely treated as just props but rather seem to have actual lives beyond the story.
It’s not the greatest detective story written but it’s entertaining. Some things in the book seemed a little anachronistic but the discord between Jewish and Christian factions adds some interest. I can’t say the reveal was effective or interesting, and the action during the reveal seemed a little muddled, but not bad enough that I’d be put off looking into another book in the series.