The Incendiary's Trail by James McCreet

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The Incendiary's Trail by James McCreet

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Meghan Burton
Reviewed by Meghan Burton
Summary: When conjoined twins from a traveling show are murdered in Victorian London, policemen are stymied and must recruit a criminal, familiar with the darkest parts of London, to help them with their investigation. It's not without its flaws, but as the murders add up and the danger escalates, this book becomes more and more fascinating and ends with a great, conclusive but just slightly mysterious finish.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: July 2009
Publisher: Macmillan New Writing
ISBN: 978-0230736276

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This book opens with a bang and except for brief slow-downs in the middle, is an exciting and riveting read. It's both a historical mystery and a thriller, teaching the reader a little bit about Victorian London while still making the book an immersive experience that can be hard to leave. The policemen really have very little idea who is behind the initial murder, much less the ones that follow, and I loved learning what happened along with them.

The book is not told through the eyes of any one character, but instead through an omniscient narrator who occasionally adds his point of view into the mix. I found this disconcerting at first and while I got used to it, I'd probably still count it as one of the negative aspects of the book. It allowed for a clever ending line, but I would really have preferred the narrator to be more invisible because I didn't like being thrown out of the book every time he told me that he was switching perspectives.

So it's perhaps not unexpected that I also struggled a little with the writing in this book. This isn't for any reason I can pin down, but I found it almost difficult to focus on the words. Rather than losing myself in the story, I often found myself wondering at strange phrasing rather than enjoying the story. If I had time to devote to the book, I could get past this fairly easily, but I don't think it would be suitable for anyone who reads in short spurts rather than for a couple of hours at a time.

On the other hand, McCreet's depiction of Victorian London is fantastic. The city is almost alive in this book. We experience mainly the seedy underworld through the eyes of both criminals and policemen, with a few excursions into more fashionable areas to liven the book up a bit. We visit the rooms of a retired prostitute, a circus show, a variety of pubs, and many other places which bring the setting truly alive. Books can allow us to live in another time for a few hours and this one certainly fulfills that job.

The characters were great too. In particular, I loved the two criminals, Noah Dyson and the murderer. Their shared past makes them interesting and a little more well-developed than the rest of the considerably large cast of characters. I couldn't wait for their final confrontation. The policemen are a little less compelling; I actually preferred learning about the force in general and didn't find myself particularly caring for any of them. I thought it was particularly fascinating that they didn't frequent the seedier areas of town or get actually involved with most of the criminals because it was considered below them. They clearly weren't operating efficiently in this book at least because they had to bribe a criminal to do their dirty work for them!

In the end, I find myself on the fence about this book. For the most part, I liked it, but I think it still has a few flaws. This is the author's first book so I'm hoping that he irons out the kinks in his future work.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to Bookbag.

For a similar eerie Victorian atmosphere, try Drood by Dan Simmons.

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Buy The Incendiary's Trail by James McCreet at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Incendiary's Trail by James McCreet at


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