MacLachlan Gray, John - The fiend in human (Trade Paperback)
Second-hand books in good condition. Images sourced from the internet. All books are cleaned before shipment/collection.
Journalist Edmund Whitty, the dissolute protagonist in John MacLachlan Gray's gloomily atmospheric mystery, The Fiend in Human, knows how to feed the public's appetite for lurid sensationalism. His latest success is Chokee Bill, "The Fiend in Human Form," a diabolical caricature of the serial strangler who's been attacking "women of low character" in 1852 London, ending their lives with white silk scarves. However, the arrest of coiner William Ryan for these crimes threatens to cool demand for Whitty's work--and thus deprive him of the income he needs for lodging, gin, and opium. So when he's approached by Henry Owler, an impoverished but proud balladeer, who hopes to ring a "last confession" from Ryan before his hanging, Whitty sees the chance again to best his competitors. What he doesn't expect, though, is for the stranglings to continue, raising doubts about Ryan's guilt and leading him--in the interests of his own pocketbook, of course--to turn detective in search of the factual fiend.
Gray, a Canadian columnist and playwright, captures Victorian London in the breadth of its grandeur and decay, shining an especially bright but sympathetic light on the city's outcast populace. A destitute woman here eyes a stray cat, "mumbling to herself that there walks two pounds of meat." An executioner's "facial pores appear to have been pricked repeatedly with pointed sticks." Pursuing his investigation, despite warnings from police and others, leads to Whitty being "thrown headlong from [a] swiftly moving carriage" and having an irate rat stuffed down the front of his trousers. However, this egocentric scribbler considers the pain worth the price, as he goes on to confront an unconvicted murderess, enlist a daring prostitute in searching for the suspicious owner of a silver flask, and face the scorn of his professional brethren--all to prove that Ryan isn't Chokee Bill, after all. Or is he? The Fiend in Human resolves this mystery amid elegant prose, frequent bursts of wit, and integral commentary on the failures of the press that reveals just how little has changed in a century and a half. --J. Kingston Pierce