As a founder member of Mystery Women in 1997, promoting Crime Fiction has always been my passion.
Following the closure of Mystery Women, a new group was formed on 30th January 2012 promoting crime fiction.
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Sphere, 6 April 2017. ISBN: 978-0-7515-6638-3(HB)
Some debut authors tread carefully, and don’t step too far outside
their comfort zone. Others go for broke, and produce chunky volumes which
explore complex themes.
Claire Evans is one of the
second kind. The Fourteenth Letter takes an eventful period of
Victorianhistory when science moved
forward quickly and new ideas were rife, and weaves an intricate web of
secrets, deceits and high-concept beliefs into a story which grows more and
more gripping as it progresses.
It opens with dramatic
promise: a young woman is murdered at her engagement party by a naked man who
appears from nowhere and disappears the moment the deed is done. Then several
apparently unconnected storylines are set in motion. A young man looks for ways
to further his career. A young American woman who could give Calamity Jane a
run for her money is spying on a London townhouse. Another young woman is
applying for a post as a governess. Then finally, a Link: a detective is tasked
to look into the murder.
Suicide, kidnapping, more
murder and gangland shenanagins follow in short order, and soon the game’s
afoot and the reader has his or her work cut out to keep track of all the
threads. There are dark doings at an exclusive London club, and darker ones at
a thieves’ den in Whitechapel; even Scotland Yard isn’t immune, and the
darkness casts its shadows over science, politics, even the law.
For a rookie novelist, Claire
Evans has a deft hand with characters. Some are larger than life: Pincott the
East End crime-boss; Vicomtesse Adeline, as wicked as she is beautiful;
Savannah Shelton, gun-totin’ chancer with a heart of gold, all the way from
Arizona with a price on her head. Others are more down-to-earth, but have
history that makes them interesting: plodding but effective detective Harry
Treadway; callow youth William Lamb, who turns from green lad into capable man
in the course of the adventure. Discovering how each of these diverse
personalities fits into the convoluted narrative was what kept me reading long
past my bedtime.
Evans also paints a
convincing picture of late Victorian England, complete with pickpockets,
Darwinian science, hints of the Wild West (Buffalo Bill’s famous show did
actually visit London in 1887) and the huge gulf between rich and poor. She
even takes the reader into Bethlem Hospital, better known as Bedlam, residence
and prison of people diagnosed as insane.
I did have a small problem
with Evans’s tendency to mix real history with her invented version, but that
was a minor point. The Fourteenth Letter is well researched, well
plotted, well written and a jolly good read.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Claire Evansis an established business specialist in the UK
television industry. After finishing her law degree, she qualified as an
accountant, but realising her mistake quickly ran away to work at the National
Theatre before finally landing a job at the BBC. Once there, she rose through
the ranks to head up operations and business affairs across the TV
commissioning teams. In drama, she led the BBC's commercial relationships with
the Independent production sector and a wide range of international
co-producers and distributors.
left the BBC in 2013 to pursue her writing career. Since then she has advised a
number of drama and film production companies, most recently working on The
Honourable Woman and Doctor Foster. She is also now the Chief
Operating Officer at Two Brothers Pictures Ltd, the company set up by Harry and
Jack Williams, the creators of The Missing.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen,
and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but
never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher
for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now
burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with
books, about half of them crime fiction.