Act of Murder by Alan Wright

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Act of Murder by Alan Wright

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A superior whodunnit set in Victorian Wigan. Great characters, good plot and excellent setting. Definitely recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 324 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Polygon
ISBN: 978-1846971679

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In 1894 Wigan was having a feast of cultural entertainment. The Morgan-Drew players from London were presenting a celebrated Victorian melodrama, but nearby the Richard Throstle Magic Lantern Company was presenting a ghoulish extravaganza called Phantasmagoria. They're at opposite ends of the cultural scale but the town was just recovering from the recent miners' strike and it seemed that happily there might be something for everyone. It wasn't to last though as the town is soon in turmoil after a gruesome murder. Detective Sergeant Samuel Slevin of the Wigan Borough Police is called in to investigate and soon discovers that much is not as it seems.

I'm not usually a fan of historical crime – I love the application of modern technology to the puzzle-solving process – but there was something about this book that made me pick it up and I'm glad that I did. As I read I came to the conclusion that the author had a real passion for the Victorian age and this was what produced such a rich and deep background. It's not a book where research has been done to give a setting for a plot but rather a plot which has been placed into a well-loved time and location. Trust me – that makes all the difference.

The characters come off the page fully-formed too, from the wife who has the presence of mind to check that her jewellery case is safe despite the fact that she wakes to find the horribly mutilated body of her husband next to her in bed, to the actor-manager of the theatre company, who's turned into a callow youth when love strikes. Sergeant Slevin is a great creation too: there's little in the way of physical description or background but you feel that you know him. The book is about the plot and not about the character of the detective. Having said that – I do hope that we see more of him.

The plot had some twists that I wasn't expecting too. As with all new inventions someone will always try and subvert them to their own uses and we see photography being used for evil ends. Even the police are shocked. It's cleverly woven into the plot and despite all the clues being there I really didn't see the ending coming. There's a real pace to the story and toward the end I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.

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

If this book appeals to you and you'd like more historical crime set in the theatre then we can recommend An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson. For more from the Victorian era you might like to try The Worms of Euston Square by William Sutton.

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