We all need heros. And we are all allowed to have whatever hero we choose. You can have Superman, Malala Yousafzai, Gandhi or Jane Eyre. Anyone. I’d have a hard time working out why anyone would make a hero out of Ian Beale but I respect their right to do it. Of course, with all that choice out there, is it fair of authors to add another candidate to the mix?
David Barnett doesn’t mess around with us – Gideon Smith is the Hero of the Empire, young, handsome and intrepid. He exudes derring-do, shining virtue and other essential heroic qualities. Unfortunately, for most of this book, he can’t quite remember who he is. This means that a fair amount of the story falls to his colleague, journalist Aloysius Bent, who, lets be honest, probably exudes rather earthier qualities (and almost certainly a general aroma of sweat, strong liquor and flatulence). This could have been a problem but, luckily, Bent is a bit of an expert on both Jack the Ripper and the murky world of the brothel-keepers who need to keep their girls out of his clutches.
Strands of the plot of the two previous Gideon Smith novels are woven into this story and we do come to some conclusions at the end. Loose ends are tied up (but space is left for more novels to come – David Barnett isn’t stupid!) and unanswered questions are answered. It is rather grittier than the previous two in my view but the subject matter – prostitution, the murder of women, abuse of the powerless by those in power – does lend itself to a more robust sort of book. Basically if you are offended by swearing this may not be the book for you – but you could be missing out on a really good read.