Author: Will Thomas

Publisher: Touchstone 

ISBN: 0-7432-5619-0

When Will Thomas began thinking about writing a mystery in the early 2000s, he felt that many Victorian mysteries were written by woman and could be classified as "cozies." "I wondered," he writes in an Author's Note in Some Danger Involved, which was published in 2004, "what it would be like to create a more dangerous detective, a shamus, a gumshoe, and to set him down in this world of Queen Victoria and Jack the Ripper."

His detective—or, as he prefers to be identified, enquiry agent—is Cyrus Barker, who speaks Chinese, Yiddish, (and probably more), fights like a ninja, maintains a Japanese-style bath on his London property, employs a French cook and a Jewish butler and general factotum, and offers Thomas Llewelyn a job as an assistant and personal secretary.

At the beginning of the book Llewelyn is just about at the end of his tether. He's a poor boy from a coal-mining town in Wales, but he is exceptional enough to attract the patronage of a lord and to be admitted to Magalen College, Oxford. He has made an unfortunate marriage, his wife of three months has died, and as a consequence of an unfortunate circumstance he has spent nine months in hard labor in Oxford Prison. In a final desperate act, he responds to Barker's advert: " . . . Typing and shorthand required. Some danger involved in the performance of duties . . . " With his next move suicide off Tower Bridge, Llewelyn, to his surprise, is hired.

The first several chapter of Some Danger Involved introduce us to Barker, his household, and his world. The assistant's position includes boarding in Barker's house; an entire new wardrobe; instruction in detecting, self-defense, and shooting; and studying the books Barker has chosen: Methods of Observation and Ratiocination, Implied Logic in Everyday Life, Understanding the Asiatic Mind, and Folk Tales of Old Edo. Llewelyn's predecessor had been killed. In Barker's world, there is always some danger involved.

The mystery proper begins in Chapter 4 when Barker and Llewelyn visit the morgue to inspect the body of a young Jewish scholar who has been murdered and crucified—hung up, in fact, in Petticoat Lane, right in the center of a Jewish market. From the morgue they call on Sir Moses Montefiore, an actual person. He was a British financier and banker. activist, philanthropist, and Sheriff of London. He was born to an Italian Jewish family and donated money to promote industry, business, economic development, education, and health in the Jewish community. In London, he was President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (thank you, Wikipedia) and—now back to fiction—he charges Barker with finding the scholar's killer.

Montefiore is concerned because at this time, the early 1880s, Ashkenazi Jews were flooding into London from the Pale of Settlement—now Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Molodova, and much of Ukraine. These are Jewish immigrants who don't speak English, who don't understand British ways, and who are taking jobs away from honest English and Irish working men need to be taught a good lesson. Sir Moses worries that someone or someones may be trying to provoke a pogrom. With no clues from the body or the scene of the crucifixion, Barker and Llewelyn set off to find the murderer.

While I am usually impatient with historical fiction, Thomas was able to engage me in Some Danger Involved. I spotted only one possible (and minor) error. Otherwise I was convinced this is the way London looked, sounded, and smelled in 1884. And Barker is such an interesting character, I was willing to overlook the villain's long speech at the end explaining how and why he did what he did. All in all an exceptionally credible debut mystery.