Award-Winning Peril in a Bygone Era
’Tis the season for summer reading, and while Oklahoma in July is a far cry from the clammy fogs of Victorian England, you’re advised to take this particular trip back to Old Blighty: 2014’s “Fatal Enquiry” by local author Will Thomas just won the Oklahoma Book Award for fiction. It’s the sixth in a series featuring detective – sorry, “private enquiry agent” – Cyrus Barker and his right-hand-man Thomas Llewelyn, and for readers to whom those names are new the story remains instantly accessible. The duo share a setting (London, 1886) and some characteristics with Holmes and Watson, and more than a little resemblance in interaction to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin – and those are in both cases excellent sources to emulate.
A deadly old nemesis resurfaces and turns the protagonists’ lives askew via chase scenes and sudden, dramatic violence and une vrai femme fatale. Filled with a rich sense of atmosphere thanks to the real historical figures moving in and behind the pages (Thomas is an avid researcher, and his original characters regularly refer to contemporary figures like the artist Whistler and General Charles “Chinese” Gordon, helping to lend their travails extra verisimilitude), the book is an adventure rather than a detective story; less “which of these eight suspects poisoned the vicar?” and more “what’s going to happen to these two next and how will they survive it?” And the news is doubly good: survive it they do (spoilers), and the next and seventh installment, “Anatomy of Evil,” is already in the wings. Good hunting!