Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Limehouse Text

In The Limehouse Text (2006), the third installment of Will Thomas's historical mystery series set during the Victorian era, it has been over a year since Cyrus Barker's first assistant Quong was murdered and still no clue has been found by either Scotland Yard or Barker to lead them to his killer. But then Inspector Bainbridge, the man originally assigned to the case, decides to go through the man's effects one more time to see if he can glean anything new and he finds a pawn ticket stub tucked into the sleeve of the Chinese man's tunic.

That pawn ticket, when redeemed by Barker produces a rare and secret text stolen from a Nanking monastery. The book contains instructions pertaining to a lethal form of martial arts forbidden to the West. And, when Bainbridge is killed in a manner similar to Quong, it becomes apparent that someone is willing to kill to get their hands on that text. Added to the urgency surrounding the matter is the uneasy political situation between the British Empire and Imperial China and the case draws the attention of the Foreign Office. Barker and his current assistant Llewelyn must track down the killer and also keep the book safe from a host of suspects--all of whom have an interest in the text. Their quest will take them through opium dens, to illegal boxing matches, and nearly end when Barker must prove himself through mortal combat at the behest of the district's warlord, Mr. K'ing. It will take more than fancy footwork and martial art skill to finally bring the crime home to the correct villain and see the text delivered safely to the rightful owners, but Barker comes through.

Thomas continues to expand on this new look at the Holmes and Watson/Wolfe and Goodwin detective team.  Lots more action than most of the Holmes stories and Barker is far more mobile and physically involved than Nero Wolfe generally is.  And I continue to enjoy the characters.  They are very  interesting and I particularly like the interaction between Barker and Llewelyn.  They have the chemistry necessary to create a duo to follow in such auspicious footsteps.  In the first book, we learned a lot about Llewelyn's background, but even with the bits and pieces we've been given along the way and a quite substantial chunk revealed in this latest outing, there is still plenty to be revealed about his employer.  The other members of Barker's staff from Mac the butler and general factotum to Dummolard, his French chef, are also well-drawn.   

Each of Thomas's books tends to focus on a particular group or historical moment from the era. This time we are immersed in the area of Limehouse and the Chinese population that lives there. I enjoyed the historical information that Thomas works into the narrative.  I appreciate learning something when I pick up a historical novel without being beaten over the head with scholarship.  Thomas weaves knowledge about the Chinese in England into the story without overburdening it and also teaches us a bit about the illegal boxing matches and martial arts without treating the material as info dumps. A very detailed and entertaining historical series that is well worth your time. ★★ and a half.

This fulfills the "historical mystery" for the Mystery Reporter Challenge.


Debbie Rodgers said...

I very much like the Barker and Llewelyn series. The Limehouse Text was actually the first that I read, but I've since read Some Danger Involved. Thanks for the reminder that I need to get back at this series: it's a particularly good Holmes/Watson pastiche!

fredamans said...

I'm gonna check out the first in the series. Even if for a gift. :-)