Series: Margaret Harkness and Arthur Conan Doyle #1
Published by Seventh Street Books on October 2, 2018
Genres: Historical Mystery
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September 1888. A twenty-nine-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle practices medicine by day and writes at night. His first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, although gaining critical and popular success, has only netted him twenty-five pounds. Embittered by the experience, he vows never to write another “crime story.” Then a messenger arrives with a mysterious summons from former Prime Minister William Gladstone, asking him to come to London immediately.
Once there, he is offered one month’s employment to assist the Metropolitan Police as a “consultant” in their hunt for the serial killer soon to be known as Jack the Ripper. Doyle agrees on the stipulation his old professor of surgery, Professor Joseph Bell—Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes—agrees to work with him. Bell agrees, and soon the two are joined by Miss Margaret Harkness, an author residing in the East End who knows how to use a Derringer and serves as their guide and companion.
Pursuing leads through the dank alleys and courtyards of Whitechapel, they come upon the body of a savagely murdered fifth victim. Soon it becomes clear that the hunters have become the hunted when a knife-wielding figure approaches.
A Knife in the Dark is a fun mix of fact and fiction. We all know Arthur Conan Doyle as the creator of Sherlock Holmes and many of us know that Homes was based on real-life Professor Joseph Bell. These two, along with Margaret Harkness are hired to help with the Jack the Ripper investigation. I didn’t know who Margaret Harkness was, so I looked her up. She was a journalist and writer, was one of many late Victorian emancipated ‘New Women’ and was engaged in lobbying for progressive reform legislation. Harper also includes many other real people in his story, those actually involved in the investigation and those on the periphery. He uses the real clues and shapes his story around them.
I’m not particularly fascinated with the Jack the Ripper murders, but Harper does a good job. I enjoyed the characters, especially Professor Bell. As a team, they are smart and not afraid to take risks. And it’s Margaret who is most prepared when things get dangerous.
London itself is very much a part of the story. The sights, the smells, the hardships of the lower classes are all shown clearly.
The mystery itself is well-worn territory, the victim, the scenes of the crimes. The solution was fine, but really it was the “Three Musketeers” as they call themselves who carry the book. The story moves quickly, but I could have done without the bit of sparks between Doyle and Harkness. Why is it so rare to have male and female partner amateur detectives who aren’t attracted to each other?
This counts as 1 pt in the COYER Treasure Hunt (a book with a cover that is at least 51% blue).