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Monday 4 May 2015

'The Murder of Patience Brooke' by J. C. Briggs

Published by The Mystery Press,
14 August 2014.  
ISBN 978-0-7509-5443-3

The detective here, assisting the fictional Superintendent. Jones of Bow street is Charles Dickens.  He is working on the novel David Copperfield  and his eighth child has just been born.  As a godfearing Victorian, and one with hard childhood experiences, Charles assists in a philanthropic activity set up by Miss Couts (a real life Victorian wealthy woman with interest in helping the disadvantaged).  This is a home for fallen women (or really very young and unfortunate poor girls) on the outskirts of London called Urania Cottage.   A terrible murder of the assistant Matron at Urania Cottage, Patience Brooke, leads the Matron to send for aid from Superintendent Jones and Dickens.

The rich denseness of Dickens's prose is well remembered here.    J.C.Briggs really renders the horrors of London well and is mistress of the telling detail - the 'mephitic vapour' that wreathed itself around the dark smelly alleyways is one example.  Another fascinating image is that of the severe looking woman who spends the whole of a railway journey clutching a wicked looking hatpin with which to defend her honour - Dickens almost feels the touch of it when they pass through tunnels!  A child character in the slums of London gets the suitably Dickensian name of Scrap.  The Dickensian prose really suits crime fiction - indeed he used it himself in his own novels which featured crime.

In historical crime fiction there is a rich strand of books featuring real life detectives -  characters as distant and diverse as Queen Elizabeth I and Groucho Marx are presented to the reader as investigators of  crimes!    I think that the most successful of these famous people in the world of detection are often the writers; after all a writer is an acute reader of character who can, therefore, discern the clues to the persons responsible for crimes and make the observations that enable pursuit and capture of a perpetrator.   Conan Doyle has certainly made a successful detective in a number of different tales and Dickens has also been used by another writer; however, this portrait is particularly successful.

I enjoyed the depth of atmosphere evoked and the convincing depictions of Dickens and his family.  The various child characters in particular, within and outside Urania Cottage, are beautifully described.   The reader cares about their fates as Charles himself does.     The villain lives up to Dickensian standards too.   

The excitement of the investigation and its speeding tension is palpable.  This is an excellent read on many levels.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer
This is the first case for Dickens and Jones but the next one - Death at Hungerford Stairs - is already promised.

J. C. Briggs taught English for many years in schools in Cheshire, Hong Kong and Lancashire. She now lives in a cottage in Cumbria with her husband who is an artist.  The Murder of Patience Brooke, featuring Charles Dickens as a detective is the first in a proposed series in which Dickens and Superintendent Jones of Bow Street investigate some dark deeds. The idea of Dickens as a detective came about when she read Dickens’s articles about the London police in his periodical Household Words. Dickens was fascinated by police investigation and by murder, in particular – there are plenty of murderers in his writing, and Dickens is credited with the creation of the first literary detective in Inspector Bucket who solves the murder of Mr Tulkinghorn in Bleak House.

Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.

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