London Society takes their problems to Sherlock Holmes. Everyone else goes to Arrowood.

What if you were a jobbing detective who lived at the same time as the great Sherlock Holmes?

What might you think of this so-called genius with an eye for the significant clue and a general dislike of people? Would you respect and admire him as a master of your craft? Or would you despise him for his ability to pick and choose from the most intriguing, lucrative cases, disregarding the dross you scuttle around in when you are lucky enough to find work?

Arrowood knows how he feels. He’s livid, and very ready to enlighten his potential clients regarding Holmes’ failures.

‘Please, don’t think I’m envious of him. I am not. I pity him…Of course he’s famous, but I’m afraid he doesn’t understand people.’

What’s this about?

Despite recognising that she is withholding information, Arrowood, along with his employee Barnett, take on a case involving a missing person from Miss Caroline Cousture. Early indications suggest a link to the Barrel of Beef, a pub and supper rooms  owned by one very unsavoury character, Stanley Cream, and guarded by his thugs. A previous altercation with them left Arrowood under instruction to desist his investigation if he did not wish to become deceased, but that just means he’ll have to send Barnett in to investigate instead…

Arrowood claims penury forces him to take on the case, but as events quickly escalate to murder, justice becomes firmly rooted at the front of his mind.

Can Arrowood and Barnett attain justice without dying in the process?

Will London ever recognise Holmes as a fraud and Arrowood as a master of their shared craft?

We’ll all have to enter London’s dark underbelly to find out…

What’s it like?

Often amusing. Frequently dark. Usually violent.

Arrowood’s repeated attacks on Holmes are entertaining, especially in light of the similarities between them: Arrowood seeks solace in booze, Holmes in cocaine; Arrowood longs for his estranged wife, Isabel, and Holmes seems to have a penchant for Irene Adler, a woman he will never admit to missing; and, of course, both have underlings to send to do their work…

Arrowood is not a sympathetic figure, (he’s a bit too coarse for that, despite his hankering for Isabel and attempts to look after young Ned), not helped by his penchant for lazing around while he sends Barnett to do all the dirty work. And dirty it is. Author Mick Finlay is determined to explore the seedier side of London (in firm contrast to Holmes’ genteel customers, beautiful mansions and important political figures), so we have gangsters and prostitutes, alcoholics and pornographers making up a significant portion of the cast. Expect threats, punches and a conclusion you can’t predict

Final thoughts

The humour is good, the references to Holmes are entertaining. The dark and seedy atmosphere is well done, but gangster figures always leave me cold so I might have appreciated a different adventure with these characters a little more.

I found this underwhelming but amusing. Plenty of good luck, bad luck and outright foolishness does lead Arrowood to close the case (the threads of which are a little sketchy early on but tighten up) and if you think this sounds fun, you’ll be delighted to know it’s the start of a series.

I’m tempted to try the next one, purely to hear about Holmes’ other unknown disasters, but Arrowood himself is not the opposite of the brilliant Holmes – he’s just an average private investigator scrabbling in the dark.

Read this to enjoy seeing the dirt and dark hiding in Dickens dragged into the everyday of Victorian London, but avoid if you like to solve the mystery alongside the detective. Remember, this isn’t about clues: it’s about people, and, my word, some of them are nasty!

Mick Finlay,
HQ, 2017, hardback
Many thanks to HQ for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.