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Wednesday 16 February 2022

‘Tom Wasp and the Murdered Stunner’ by Amy Myers

Published by Five Star Thomson Gale USA,
4 February 2008.
ISBN 978-1-59414-593-3

This is certainly told in a fresh voice – indeed it fascinates me the way the hero sees and describes the world through the prism of his own profession.  Tom Wasp is a Victorian chimney sweep who guides us through a London underworld which touches the overworld at intervals.  He is a compassionate and upright man (though physically bent) and has a homespun philosophy based on a combination of the frightening experiences of a child chimney boy, religion and his own unique responses to the world expressed in the language of chimney sweeping.

Tom’s assistant and surrogate son (called his chummy) is twelve-year-old Ned who has nightmares of his own as another ex-climbing boy.  Tom lives in the East End but obviously his work involves him visiting the houses of the wealthy and privileged and his views are through their chimneys.  In the 1860s the use of climbing boys is forbidden by law but enforcement is poor, so the boys still exist in the company of many other helpless children.  The poverty of the inhabitants of East End London is graphically displayed as Tom investigates the life of Bessie – the murdered stunner of the book’s title. 

One of Tom’s clients was a society painter who decided that Tom would look very effective in a painting in company with the model Bessie.  Emphasis is always made on the outward dirt of Tom in contrast to his pure motives – indeed the implications are clear that Tom while looking outwardly evil is inwardly good whereas many with whom he deals in the wealthy parts of London are inwardly depraved and cruel although they have clean exteriors.  Tom proves to be a doughty investigator when Bessie’s murdered body is found.  His searches are at first ineffective but gradually, as Tom puts it ‘a lot of soot was beginning to loosen.’  The story becomes darker and more complex, but Tom perseveres and reaches a terrifying conclusion.

I really enjoyed a book set in the mid-19th century which gives equal weight to the poor and privileged parts of society and, by doing so, reveals far more about the slums from the point of view of those who live there than is usual.  The setting, characters and mystery enmesh together most effectively.

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer

Amy Myers worked as a director in a London publishing firm, before realising her dream to become a writer. Her first series featured detective, August Didier, a half French, half English master chef in late Victorian and Edwardian times. She writes a series with her American husband James Myers, featuring Jack Colby, car detective, there are 5 books in the series. Her most recent series is set post WW1 and the first book is  Dancing With Death, published January 2017.  Amy also writes historical novels and suspense under the name Harriet Hudson.

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