The Devil's Ribbon by D E Meredith

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The Devil's Ribbon by D E Meredith

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Victorian London is sweltering. Cholera is rife in the city, and the morgue is full. And then Hatton, an expert in the new science of forensics, finds himself embroiled in a series of violent murders in the Irish community.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: December 2011
Publisher: Minotaur
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780312557690

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In the London of 1858, the Irish are the poorest of the poor, despised and feared by the English. They were forced to emigrate from their fatherland because of the famine which decimated the population, and now the majority of them live in filthy, germ-ridden rookeries. Cholera is killing them off in their hundreds, and blame for their terrible conditions is laid squarely at the feet of their English masters, together with those Irishmen who have so far forgotten their home that they cooperate with the oppressors. And as the hottest summer on record drags on, and the tenth anniversary of the potato blight and its horrific consequences approach, the mood in the slums is ripe for violence and murder.

Hatton and his assistant Roumande struggle to cope with the mounting piles of bodies, not to mention their research into the causes and effects of cholera. These two men are at the very forefront of the new science of forensics, slowly exploring the possibilities of finger-printing, and performing daily post-mortems to discover the effects of various types of death on the corpse. They even, during the course of the book, work out that it might be possible to decide the time of a death by observing the flies and maggots that quickly invade the body.

The Hatton and Roumande mysteries are not books for the squeamish: discussions on the less palatable aspects of dying pepper the conversation of the two friends, and the smells and sights in the morgue are relayed to the reader in ample and colourful detail. The era is well-researched, from dress and food to behaviour and ways of thinking, and the reader is plunged whole and entire into a world which is convincingly real. The anger and hatred of the Irish is clear, and the reasons for it highly persuasive: there is evidence that the forced migrations to England, Australia and America, which the English deemed necessary to save the Irish people from complete extermination, were carried out by brutal and unscrupulous men who chose profit over humanity. And now is the time to repay them. Green ribbons, the symbol of the Fenians, are appearing on corpses from the very rich to the very poor. What is the connection between a rich Irish Unionist, a 'gombeen man' from the rookeries and a fashionable French chef?

We learn a great deal more about the character and past life of Adolphus Hatton in this second book, and it is good to see that in the midst of all the gore and gloom of his work he is able to enjoy a gentle moment of romance with a bewitching young woman. It provides him with a small respite from the sadness he feels at the dreadful fates of two children, one the victim of a bombing, the other caught up in revolutionary fever, and this compassion gives depth and perspective to his mortuary investigations. Readers will enjoy the rich canvas of life depicted in these pages, and the tiny details (like the opium bonbons so beloved of Inspector Grey, and the momentary glance of a lady's ankle which utterly confounds Hatton) which tell so much about the period. Let's hope that further adventures of Hatton and Roumande will soon be available!

Many thanks to Minotaur for sending this fascinating story to Bookbag.

"You don't need to read Devoured the first book in this series, to enjoy this one, but it would be a shame to miss it! And once you've finished all the Sherlock Holmes tales you can get your hands on, you might want to try Betrayal at Lisson Grove by Anne Perry.

Buy The Devil's Ribbon by D E Meredith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Devil's Ribbon by D E Meredith at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Devil's Ribbon by D E Meredith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Devil's Ribbon by D E Meredith at Amazon.com.

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