10 February 2012

The Bedlam Detective; Stephen Gallagher

The Bedlam Detective: A NovelThe Bedlam Detective: A Novel by Stephen Gallagher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The subtitle is a bit confusing: this is a novel as much as it is a mystery (and this goes back to the question I've been asking for the past year or so - why are we using "a novel" as a subtitle? is there the risk we can't tell fact from fiction?).

There are two intertwined questions here, the first being "who killed the two little girls, and how is this related to the assaults on Grace and Evangeline years ago?" and "is Sir Owain insane?". Our hero is, of course, concerned that perhaps the answers to one lead to the other. Sebastian Becker works for the Crown in the role of Visitor in Lunacy, helping determine whether someone is capable of handling his (or her) affairs or needs to be put in "Bethlam" (aka "St. Mary Bethlehem Hospital" or Bedlam). His previous training, however, was as a Pinkerton detective, and he uses this to help Steven Reed figure out what's happening in Arnmouth.

The two questions do appear to be related, and Sebastian's investigation leads to some interesting characters, including the aforementioned Evangeline, now a suffragette working in the Inns of Court. The two, along with Sebastian's son Robert (whom I thought had Down's Syndrome, given the name of his doctors, but it's more ASD-like) try to determine the truth of the ill-fated Amazon trip that Sir Owain led, and whether he is now mad as a result.

The ending is a little rushed yet nonetheless satisfying. The questions are answered and were not telegraphed way in advance - always nice in a mystery. The descriptions of the Amazon, medicine 100 years ago and the suffrage movement make add to the atmosphere in an organic way (in other words, they don't feel tacked on to the mystery to give it a setting).

ARC provided by publisher.

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