- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 3148.0 KB
- Print Length: 265 pages
- Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1974430545
- Publisher: Little G Books; 1 edition (20 Aug. 2017)
- Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
- Language: English
- ASIN: B074VBCV18
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #78,635 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Wonders & Wickedness (The Victorian Detectives Book 5) Kindle Edition
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The plot centres around a man found murdered in the display window of a new department store, and the possible existence of eighteen year old Sybella Wynward, daughter of Lord Hugh and Lady Meriel, who is supposedly dead, following a train accident, but appears to have come to life ~ or has she?
The plot is cleverly and intricately worked out but, as always for me with these books, it comes second to the characterisation, and the star of the whole book, which is London itself. The parts of the book I enjoyed the most (and I enjoyed every line) were the pictures Ms Hedges paints of our not-so-glorious capital in the 1860s. As usual with these books, some parts I read twice, because I enjoyed them so much; they made me want to be there and walk those streets myself, even the dark, murky alleys.
Wonders and Wickedness is a riot of technicolour characters, from the bad (Lord Hugh and Montague Foxx), to the daft and deluded (Thorogood and Strictly), to the good (the Cullys), the tragic (Lady Meriel) and the entertaining (Constantia Mortram). One of my favourites was Felix Lightowler, bookseller and would-be Elizabethan alchemist, who studied the works of John Dee and those of his ilk; I loved the way Ms Hedges wrote his thoughts in the Elizabethan spelling. The books is filled with similar delightful touches.
Loved it. Buy it. 🔍
In a complex, ingenious plot several crimes are gradually solved as we meet a delicious selection of fantastic characters, from Felix Lightowler, who fancies himself as a contemporary alchemist, to Boris Finister, a Dickensian fat boy and Rancid Cretney, who constantly mans a neighbourhood watch which only irritates the police force. Every detail of the characters’ names, clothing and vocabulary fit their context perfectly.
And within the plotline there is humour, pathos and a picture of the dire social consequences of Victorian values. When Stride goes to interview a builder he finds,
“Serried ranks of terraces of two up two down houses. Absent landlords will subdivide them into as many short-term lets as possible adding them to that surprising feature: the brand new suburban slum.
Mr Bellis struts with the aggressive bantam-cock attitude of all small men who’d like to be big men only nature hasn’t permitted it.”
As a connoisseur of all the previous Victorian Detective Books, I knew that I would enjoy meeting up with old friends at Scotland Yard and independent business women such as Lilith Marks and Josephine King but this book would be equally rewarding as a one off read, although it is bound to tempt you to indulge in other gems from the series. When will a producer take up these books for TV or movie?
The story seems at first as though it came straight from the pages of Dickens himself. In fact, the Victorian London of 1864 is itself one of the supporting characters, introduced by its iconic fog. “Fog finds its way up from the river and down from the sky, filtering like a melodramatic ghost through cracks and crevices. Tendrils of fog slip in around shutters, sliding into lighted rooms, where they make the candles crackle.” London’s fog obscures scenes and characters, but it also connects all of them.
As the fog blankets London, we meet Mr. Gould, an enterprising Victorian gentleman on the eve of opening his brand new department store, complete with expansive plate glass display windows carefully composed to present an irresistible version of middle class Victorian life—or at least the pieces of it sold there (“Never beaten on price”). But when he arrives for the grand opening, things don’t go according to plan.
[QUOTE] He remembers the finished window clearly. It was a masterpiece. What he does not remember is a shirt-sleeved man sitting at the foot of the table, his head face down upon the oval mahogany dining table. He is clutching a carving knife in one outstretched hand, and his blood has stained the white damask table cloth bright crimson. [END QUOTE]
If this were the classic detective story later regulated by Agatha Christie or the other members of the British Detection Club, there would be a main crime to solve plus a secondary mystery, perhaps with a bit of romantic side interest. But in author Hedges’ tongue-firmly-in-cheek homage to Charles Dickens—whose numerous intersecting plots wandered far and wide, stopping to wave in surprised greeting when they happened to meet—the murdered man has to await the attentions of detectives Stride and Cully. Meanwhile the wonderfully annoying Rancid Cretney lodges his daily complaint about his noisy neighbors, a bereaved aristocratic mother consults psychics for messages from her lost child, an amateur alchemist and his greedy apprentices attempt to turn metal into gold, a wronged wife still grieves for her lost baby, a (former) urchin investigates the mysterious reappearance of the dress worn by his dead sweetheart, and the London fog wraps everything.
I’ve said it before… Carol Hedges writes better Dickens than Charles Dickens. But if she dutifully goes down the list of Dickensian tropes and Victorian themes, she is equally thorough in subverting each. Thus each of the seemingly unrelated story lines rush toward a straightforward goal. Dickensian-style coincidences verging on divine intervention that allow orphans to discover rich and loving relatives are reinterpreted here to be the results of human greed and self-deception.
Where Charles Dickens’ social conscience raised the image of starving children and abused women, he would usually choose the ones who would be miraculously saved from those who came from “good” families, their salvation at the hands of benevolent (and prosperous) members of the middle or upper classes. In Carol Hedges’ London, however, most of the abuse is at upper class hands, while the saving comes from the working classes, such as Lillith Marks, former prostitute and now a businesswoman who owns a small chain of tea shops. Part of Carol Hedges genius as a writer is the way she builds the world of Victorian London until, as a supporting character, London itself offers comments.
[QUOTE]Here, ladies of the ‘soiled dove’ variety rent places by the night, selling their bodies to men who fancy their company. Also from these dingy fetid attic rooms come the beautiful hand-stitched ball gowns for rich young ladies selling their future to men who fancy a well-dowried wife. Same game, but with different rules, more money and better clothing.[END QUOTE]
Wonders & Wickedness is, in fact, entirely made up of supporting characters, loosely connected by Scotland Yard’s two detectives, Detective Inspector Leo Stride and Detective Sergeant Jack Cully. As policing professionals, detectives are relatively new but already Stride is buried by the paperwork demands of his position, exacerbated by further struggles with his subordinates’ lack of education—“…in the constables’ day room at Scotland Yard, where Jack Cully is inducting two of the newest recruits into the mysteries of punctuation. He has just about managed to achieve commas…”
But the true bane of Stride’s existence is the ubiquitous Rancid Cretney, who waylays the inspector on a regular basis to lodge complaints about his neighbors. Rancid was, frankly, one of my favorite characters, from his coat, “…a tweed jacket that has seen better days but never participated in them,” to his “slightly hard of thinking” mental processes. I especially loved the fact that Rancid is actually correct. The neighbors whose nocturnal noises are so disturbing, do in fact end up causing a huge tragedy—an entire storyline with a full cast of deliciously well-rounded characters whose sole purpose is to place one character in exactly the right place to collide with another, providing Detective Stride with a solution to his murder investigation even as he remains blissfully unaware of the conclusion to Rancid Cretney’s complaints. (I take consolation in the twin thoughts that Cretney never understands what has happened either, and that he will soon find another topic with which to continue ambushing Detective Stride.)
The book is full of these wonderful supporting characters, each lovingly well-rounded and developed. For example, the self-satisfied department store owner John Gould’s expensive black beaver top hat and tailored frock coat are accompanied by “…a rather awful yellow waistcoat with red erysipelas spots”. (Yes, I had to that up too, and was rewarded with the information that erysipelas is a skin disease that afflicts both people and pigs.)
There are other characters equally well-drawn, their individual lives caught up in separate story lines which—with the assistance of coincidence and a few nudges from Stride and Cully—eventually resolve. I loved that most of the stories revolve around ordinary people and the ways they go about building better lives for themselves and each other. As Detective Jack Cully says, “Sometimes, maybe when we least expect it, wonderful things can happen. Things that will change our lives for the better.”
Although he undoubtedly would have used several paragraphs in the attempt, Dickens couldn’t have said it better.
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The opening is truly dramatic- the sort I wish that I`d have the wit to imagine up.Read more