Gower Street, London, 1882: Sidney Grice, London’s most famous personal detective, is expecting a visitor. He drains his fifth pot of morning tea, and glances outside, where a young, plain woman picks her way between the piles of horse-dung towards his front door.
March Middleton is Sidney Grice’s ward, and she is determined to help him on his next case. Her guardian thinks women are too feeble for detective work, but when a grisly murder in the slums proves too puzzling for even Sidney Grice’s encyclopaedic brain, March Middleton turns out to be rather useful after all…
This book was an impulse pick up from the library after I saw it was a historical murder mystery and it was the first one in a series (my library never has the first one in a series, it’s always second at the very best).
The Mangle Street Murders are about March Middleton who comes to London after both her parents pass away to stay with her godfather and personal detective, Sidney Grice. She gets involved in one of Grice’s cases and, as she traveled around with her father, the army surgeon, she provides some usual insights on injuries and health as such.
Sidney Grice is a man with all the lack of social niceties that Sherlock Holmes has, not much of the intelligence and none of the redeeming qualities. He makes it very obvious that the job is a job and so if he doesn’t get paid, he doesn’t try and solve the case. He is also a classist, sexist man who looks down on the majority of the world around him and, although we’re supposed to think he has a good heart, we don’t really see much of that in evidence. However, the author wisely chose March to be the protagonist for this book and she was an absolute delight.
We’re introduced to March as she drinks from a flask of gin and smokes a cigarette on the train and befriends a woman who does the same thing. When she gets to Grice’s house, he asks her and she lies quite blatantly. It’s obvious that Grice believes she is lying but can’t find anything to disagree with. She then proceeds to get herself involved with the case and helps Grice to come to the conclusion, though she believes in the man’s innocence while Grice believes in him being guilty. What I liked the most was, near the end, Grice is yelling at March for carrying out an action which made logical sense for the information she had. She pointed out that if he had told her what he knew, instead of trying to be mysterious and clever, she would have acted differently. I do like books that address the fact that people holding back information means that other people can act differently to how they should.
Sidney and March have a very acrimonious relationship and March doesn’t hold back her comments due to living with Sidney, though she does try and follow his rules in the house. Like I said, he was sexist and classist and made several inappropriate comments but March called him out every time. While I didn’t agree with March’s actions near the end, it fit in perfectly with March’s character. She doesn’t let Sidney’s comments and views on the world interfere with wanting to do what was right.
The actual plot of the book was convoluted but in an interesting, rather than confusing, way. I loved seeing the pieces come together and how the plot of the book is happening in the setting. It is a book firmly rooted in the time as the press get involved and the trial is on display and people everywhere have an opinion about what happened in the end. I loved how the plot was directly suited for London and how everything pieced together in the end. I did like seeing the snippets of March’s backstory throughout the book as it made sense for what was going on around March, but also were not too often so it felt like a pause in the plot, rather than a complete stop.
This was an incredibly enjoyable book and one I would recommend, with the caveat that you probably won’t like Sidney Grice too much. I’m going to continue with the series and see how it turns out in the end. 4 stars!