Wednesday, October 10, 2018
A Knife in the Fog by Bradley Harper
question. Who is Margaret Harkness? The subtitle is "A Mystery Featuring Margaret Harkness & Arthur Conan Doyle". Margaret Harkness was a journalist and author in the late 1800s who published under the name John Law. And, she, like the other main characters in this compelling story, was a real person.
Dr. Arthur Doyle is a young practicing physician in 1888. He's published one story featuring a detective called Sherlock Holmes, "A Study in Scarlet", but he is so disillusioned by the small payment he received that he vows never to write another crime story. Instead, he's working on a historical novel. He's stunned to receive a summons from former Prime Minister William Gladstone. Will Doyle come to London and meet with Gladstone's secretary to learn of an unusual proposal? Intrigued, the young doctor takes the train to discover why Gladstone would want him. Dr. Doyle thinks Gladstone is a patient. Instead, Gladstone is a concerned citizen worried about the Whitechapel killings of prostitutes by an unknown person called "Leather Apron". According to Gladstone's secretary, Jonathan Wilkins, he wants Doyle to act as a consultant to the Metropolitan police to assist with the investigation.
Doyle is astonished, and finds a clever way to turn down the job. He'll act as a consultant only if his former surgical professor, Dr. Joseph Bell, agrees to consult as well. He's astonished when Bell says yes. Wilkins provides Doyle with a note to the police, and suggests a guide to the East End. He recommends a journalist named Margaret Harkness who has moved there to write about the working poor.
While the somewhat stodgy Doyle has to learn how capable Harkness is, Dr. Bell accepts her immediately as a knowledgeable guide. The trio are soon caught up in the investigation of the killer to become known as Jack the Ripper. The killer has every person in London looking over their shoulder, including the group that jokingly refers to themselves as "The Three Musketeers". The threat is closer than any of them can imagine.
Harper's debut mystery is beautifully written, a complicated story that reads as if it came from the Holmes canon. It's skillfully developed so the reader can see foreshadowing of future stories by Doyle. The author brings the streets of Whitechapel to life, along with the working women of London. And, his knowledge as a pathologist is evident as Dr. Bell consults in the morgue with the autopsies of the Ripper's victims. Harper manages to handle the role of women in Victorian society, the lives of working women, and the new field of "consulting detectives" in this fascinating story.
I already did the research. Readers will recognize the names of Doyle, Bell, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Clemens, Gladstone. Margaret Harkness was a crusading journalist. Inspector Frederick Abberline really did investigate the Jack the Ripper case. And, of course, the names of the Ripper's victims are known.
A Knife in the Fog is an outstanding debut. Readers of Sherlock Holmes stories or Jack the Ripper fiction or nonfiction, as well as those who appreciate mysteries featuring actual people, might want to check out this book.
Bradley Harper's website is https://bharperauthor.com
A Knife in the Fog by Bradley Harper. Seventh Street Books, 2018. ISBN 9781633884861 (paperback), 288p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.