Will Thomas, Some Danger Involved (Simon & Schuster, 2004)

ASSISTANT to prominent enquiry agent. Typing and shorthand required. Some danger involved in performance of duties. Salary commensurate with ability.

A destitute Thomas Llewelyn answers an advertisement on what he presumes to be his last day of life. Should he fail to be hired (and he's certain that he will fail), he plans to jump from a bridge into the Thames. To his surprise, he succeeds in the interview, and is hired by Cyrus Barker, private enquiry agent (it seems that Barker dislikes being called a detective).

Llewelyn's adventures begin the next day. In the midst of rising anti-Semitism in Victorian London, a young Jewish man is found knifed and crucified. Fearing a pogrom, the elders of London's Jewish community hire Barker to find the responsible party and determine the motive. Llewelyn follows his mentor through London's underworld and ethnic enclaves, seeking clues. Although Barker does allot a small amount of time for martial arts practice and pistol training, his new assistant finds himself suddenly immersed in his new trade, learning it on the job; luckily, he's a quick study, for Some Danger is Involved almost immediately. I don't want to spoil the ending since this is, after all, a mystery. Let me just say that I was at first surprised at the villain's identity, and later, aggravated that I'd missed some clues.

There are several narrative dead ends...or are they? As the story flows well despite them, they may be deliberate. I suspect that some characters, especially the nefarious types, are present mainly to introduce them to the reader, and that they will appear in later books. Many of the characters are complex, not entirely as they seem on the surface. A sour, slovenly Frenchman is both a brilliant chef and skilled Savateur. Barker's sarcastic butler is a vain ladies' man, and also a terror with a shotgun. Llewelyn is no tabula rasa; though he tends to present himself as naive, a babe in London's woods, yet he has some education at Oxford University, and also Oxford Prison. Barker himself is the most intriguing, as observant as Doyle's Holmes, versed in the customs of various cultures, a martial artist, a Biblical scholar, a teetotaler who loves booze, a former clipper captain; I get the impression that this is only a portion of Barker's character. Part of his appeal is in wondering what might surface next.

Some Danger Involved is written in Victorian style, which may not be to the taste of some modern readers, but which suits the story. Despite the Victorian setting, this is not Sherlock Holmes meets James Bond (although Barker and Llewelyn have overcoats that could have been designed by an early version of Q branch). The real interest here is neither the rough and tumble (Thomas has written some outstanding fight scenes) or the search for a murderer, but rather Llewelyn's quest to learn about his employer. Hopefully, we, the readers, will also be able to uncover more in subsequent books.

[Tim Hoke]