When doctor James Carlyle attends a show at a local circus with his daughter, Adelaide, he is rushed backstage to help with what appears to be a horrific accident. One of the performers, Robert Manston, has died after falling during an act. But Carlyle soon realises Robert’s palms had been covered with grease. The man’s performance partner, George Rose, has gone on the run, and Carlyle and Inspect Jennings of Scotland Yard both believe George may have caused the fall on purpose.
Meanwhile, children start to go missing from local preacher Matthew West’s Bible class, and a spate of burglaries are reported in London’s East End. Matthew and Carlyle decide to help Inspector Jennings solve the mystery. And Adelaide is desperate to help Matthew find the lost children.
Are the crimes connected? Is there a link to the murder at the circus? And can they find the children before it is too late…?
I adore this series of mysteries. For one, they are shorter books (around 200 pages), but don’t feel rushed or incomplete at any point. The mysteries always seems to involve some supernatural element (yet turn out to have ordinary explanations). And lastly they have a strong Sherlock Holmes feeling, but with some interesting, refreshing, character dynamics seeing as in this case ‘Sherlock’ is a surgeon and ‘Watson’ is a priest. This in itself leads to interesting discussions on science vs religion (with no sides being favoured by the author).
Although in this specific book the Sherlock Holmes feeling is let go a bit. Dr Carlyle is a busy man. He has a job to fulfill at the London Hospital and cannot go out and about solving mysteries. We mainly follow Matthew and Adelaide, trying to figure out how to make their lives work in their new roles as curate and spouse. As this series has such strong characters, it is far from a punishment to focus a bit more on their personal lives and problems (although I have to say I did appreciate that not much page time was given to the wedding and honeymoon).
But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a mystery to solve. When Matthew and Adelaide come back from their honeymoon they hear that 12 children have gone missing. And just because they are children, that doesn’t mean they get out of this easy. If that is something you are sensitive for, be aware that several of the kids die in quite horrible ways. There is also a series of strange burglaries, ghost sightings and it is rumoured that Spring Heeled Jack has returned.
I do have some issues with this book though. For one, there is a great lack of urgency. By the time Matthew and Adelaide are told about the missing kids, they have been gone for weeks already, and still no great search party is put together. And even when it is found out where the kids are being held (after they have already found the mutilated corpse of one of them) they decide against going to their rescue at ones because you can’t work on the weekends! Secondly there is quite some over-explanation. These characters aren’t stupid, and neither is the reader. Yet in certain cases they keep going on, far beyond the point where ‘yes, we got it!’
Overall, this was a very enjoyable and quick read in a series I have grown to love for its great characters and wonderful mysteries that are always different from your ‘standard’ murders. The fourth and last book comes out tomorrow, and seeing as I am currently 40% in I am confident I will be able to post my review for it by then.