Corney Sage is a small-time performer in the music halls and circuses of Victorian London. When his friend, a prostitute named Bessie Spooner, is brutally beaten to death in the yard behind their workplace, Corney, along with another prostitute, Lucy, are the only witnesses. The shadowy figure of the killer haunts them as they flee from town to town, trying to escape him. But the killer's identity is more surprising than anyone could have realised...
A colourful tale of murder and circus folk in Victorian England, this is certainly an authentic book. The author is clearly an authority on the subject, fleshing out the story with minor details that makes the world of Corney Sage come alive. His voice seems note-perfect, a sympathetic protagonist. The low-life landlords, show folk and prostitutes he mixes with are portrayed vividly, down to their blackened teeth and poor spelling, whilst the upper-class characters seem to inhabit a different world. Class is an important issue in respect to the identity of the killer, but I won't dwell on it here.
The viewpoint of the story alternates between characters, and the identity of the killer is quickly revealed to the reader. We learn the killer's motivations, and see how they plan to get away with their crimes.
But I have to admit that I didn't find this book very interesting. It took me a couple of weeks to read, which is very slow for me, and was never that keen to pick it up and find out what happened next, which isn't great for a crime novel. As a piece of historical fiction it works really well, although I found the ending a bit blurry and disappointing, told from Corney's viewpoint as he battles with illness, the story takes on a hallucinatory air that gave everything an uncertain feeling. More of a period piece than a riveting crime read.