Thursday, September 1, 2011

New Book Review - The Diary of a Murder

Before I plunge into my book review, just a reminder of the contest for a free copy of The Fourth Wish, in Kindle or paperback (winner's choice). To read the rules for the contest -- which ends Friday, September 9th -- go here. (Please comment for the contest on that post so I can keep your points straight.)

Many of you know I like to read mysteries and historical novels when I'm not reading children's books. And I indulged in quite a few adult reads (and reviewed them) while I was recuperating from my foot surgery. So this is one last review of a book that combines both mystery and a historical setting: Victorian London, when streets were foggy, and you could hear the clop-clop-clop of horse hooves against cobblestones as doomed victims set off in carriages, and cases were solved without a swat team kicking in a door and waving guns. The book is The Diary of a Murder, by Lee Jackson. I bought the print version, but I see it is also out in Kindle now (in the UK).

A bit of background for this discovery: While gathering information for my middle grade mystery set in Victorian London (which is a tamer tale indeed), I came across Lee Jackson's wonderful website, called (appropriately) Victorian London. In it you will find a treasure trove of Victoriana. He provides a dictionary listing various topics, from maps, to transportation, whatever; and a click on any one topic will take you to a wealth of original sources (including Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, under Diet, where you can see what meals to plan for each month of the year in 1861. Mr. Jackson also provides some of the original "penny dreadfuls" for your reading pleasure. And he has a wonderful blog called The Cat's Meatshop, well worth following. The Diary of a Murder is his seventh mystery novel, and he has also published two nonfiction books: Victorian London and A Dictionary of Victorian London, An A-Z of the Great Metropolis.  And renowned mystery writer, Andrew Taylor, has said, "No one knows Vicorian London as Lee Jackson does -- historical fictin doesn't come more authentic than this."

On to the the review:
The Willises are concerned because their married daughter, Dora Jones, has disappeared after planning to visit them in Chelsea. When Sergeant Preston and a constable go to the Jones's home to investigate, they find the daughter brutally murdered and the pages of a diary scattered about. The diary is by Dora's husband, Jacob Jones, a clerk at the Crystal Palace. But Jacob appears to have fled the scene. Detective Inspector Delby is called in, and the story unfolds in chapters that alternate between Jacob Jones's diary, and the investigation by the inspector and the sergeant.

The story that follows reveals a doting husband, a humble clerk, who married above his station (Dora's father is a draper, and rich, and does not like young Jacob). Jacob gushes about his sweet wife,  confesses his yearnings to be a writer, admits his frustrations with his in-laws, who seem snobbish and conservative. He also has an alcoholic father whom he has bailed out of financial difficulties more than once. A reader has to sympathize with his plight. And Dora's, as well, because when she miscarries, she goes into a deep depression, and Jacob hasn't a clue to how to pull her out of it.

But wait. His sweet wife knows nothing of Jacob's drunkard father. Jacob has invented entirely another background for himself. And how devoted is Jacob  really as he showers the sweet Dora with pet names and repeatedly worries for her health? And is he the pushover he makes himself out to be when he helps a young seamstress living with his father find employment first with a neighbor, then in Papa Willis's work-room? And why does he aid his co-worker, Fortesque, who is in deep trouble over mismanaging company funds? You have to wonder about someone who knows himself so little. Likewise Delby and Preston scratch their heads continually over the ups and downs of Jones's diary as Jacob's own troubles mount, his writing grows more and more desperate - but sometimes calculating.

This is a good read to the last page, full of a multitude of surprises, and I didn't see the end coming at all.


Rosi said...

Thanks for this review. This one is going near the top of my TBR list! Thanks.

Alleged Author said...

What a wonderful review. I envy your ability to describe (as I suck at it). Happy Thursday!

Michelle Fayard said...

A historical mystery is just about the best thing in the universe, and I love the title of this book. Thank you as well for the heads up about the Web site; that looks fascinating too.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Thanks for a wonderful review. The book will go into my TBR pile.

Kenda Turner said...

Ooh, the intrigue! Sounds like a book I'd like to read. Thanks for the review:-)

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Rosi, Rachna, Kenda, and Alleged, if you liked the review, you'll really like the book!

Alleged, I don't believe you suck at description, but thanks for the nice compliment.

Michelle, I'm glad you like the info websites; they are really worth perusing. I also want to get more of his books.

Everyone have a nice day!

Joanna said...

You are a great reviewer Elizabeth. Sounds like a London I would like to get to know ;)

Jayne said...

Sounds good. I'm getting more and more interested in this period of history so thanks for the timely rec! Hope you are feeling better.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Hi, Jayne, thanks, I'm feeling great. Even went circle dancing this week-end at the Greek Festival.
Glad you liked the reference site. It's one of the best.