Friday, May 20, 2016

The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel: A review

The Strings of MurderThe Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Supercilious prig. Those are the words that came to mind when I considered how to describe Inspector Ian Frey. Frey is the son of an aristocratic English family in 1888 London. He's essentially a ne'er-do-well; he failed at law school and then found he didn't have the stomach for medical school.

Finally, he found a niche with Scotland Yard CID where he discovered that he actually had a talent for detecting. But then the Jack the Ripper murders paralyzed London with fear and stymied Scotland Yard which was unable to solve the crimes. The bureaucratic answer to the public's concern was to fire people. Ian Frey's boss who had supported him was forced to resign and the "new broom" at the head decided to sweep Frey away as well.

The Prime Minister, however, had other plans for him. He tapped Frey to go to Edinburgh to assist in an investigation there. It seems that there may be a Jack the Ripper copycat killer on the loose and Frey is deemed to be the one to help catch him.

Frey is appalled. "Edin-bloody-burgh" is the back of beyond in his foppish, privileged world, its citizens barely civilized. He is further outraged when he learns that he will be assigned to a department that investigates possible supernatural phenomena. This will be his cover. He will be under the supervision of the department's head, Inspector Adolphus "Nine-Nails" McGray.

McGray is complete confirmation of Frey's prejudices against all things Scottish. He is loud, shabbily dressed in tartan (obviously not a gentleman!), prone to flashes of violence, open to the possibility of supernatural causes, and speaks English with a heavy Scottish brogue that makes him virtually incomprehensible to Frey. Moreover, McGray sees Frey as a pretty boy dandy, an unserious man about town who will only get in his way. He resents London foisting its unwanted inspector on him.

How will these two opposites ever work together? Will they ever be able to get past their dislike of each other to actually investigate and solve a crime?

The crime is pretty horrific. A talented violinist has been murdered in Jack the Ripper fashion in a closed and locked (from the inside) room at his home. His body was ripped open and most of his entrails removed. On the floor where his body was found, an occult symbol possibly signifying devil worship was sketched.

But that is hardly the end. Soon the body count mounts as more violinists are murdered and their bodies desecrated in similar fashion. All of them were a part of the known circle of acquaintances of the first victim. They were all basically men who lived quiet lives and seemed to have no enemies. What is the connection and who would want them dead?

There are few clues and the two detectives must overcome their antipathy and work together to try to catch the murderer and save their own jobs. The rancorous interactions between the two finally settle into a kind of grudging understanding and respect, helped along by the arrival of Frey's housekeeper in the city and her putting the house where they both live in order. It just takes a woman's civilizing touch!

This was Oscar de Muriel's first crime thriller. It was fast-paced, well-plotted, although there were few if any (at least I didn't find them) clues sprinkled throughout that would have led the discerning reader to be able to solve the crime. The denouement was indeed a surprise. Nevertheless, I thought de Muriel was very accomplished at recreating the sights, scenes, and smells of Victorian Edinburgh. His imagery was vivid and well-expressed and the characters of Frey and McGray were developed nicely, allowing the reader to eventually see that the men are not exactly what they appear on the surface. There's a bit more to them than that and it augurs well for a future working relationship, should de Muriel decide to give us more.


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4 comments:

  1. Sounds like a well fleshed out mystery.

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    1. Well, there was certainly flesh all over the place! But, yes, it was a diverting read.

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  2. Your review is so entertaining, I don't see how the book could top it!

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