Saturday, May 9, 2015

Anatomy of Evil by Will Thomas

First Sentence:  I understand it is said in scientific circles that if one attempts to boil a frog, it will jump out of the pot, but it one raises the temperature of the water slowly it will never notice the difference until it is too late.
      
“Unfortunate” women are being brutally murdered in the alleys of Whitechapel.  The head of Scotland Yard’s CID comes to private enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, asks that they accept a temporary post within the Department to bring the killer to justice.  In the process, they have to navigate interagency maneuverings, a possible connection with the Royal Family, and possible pogram against London’s Jewish community.
      
From the very beginning, we are treated to both a wonderful narrative, as well as a tease of things to come…”We were not aware, my employer, Cyrus Barker, and I, that events of historic significance were happening around us.  As usual, I was merely trying to get from point A, January 1, to point B, December 31, in one solid and very much living piece.”  Sadly, the tease is followed by a much-hated and unnecessary portent.
      
The characters of Llewelyn, the narrator, and Barker, his employer, are wonderful and fascinating.  Thomas takes us down the sordid streets of Whitechapel and into the Jewish Ghetto.  Barker is a rather enigmatic, yet beguiling, character.  He is an encyclopedia of skills, knowledge and Biblical quotations.  With both, we have learned bits of their background in previous books, yet learn even more in this entry to the series.  That is not to say that new readers will feel lost or confused.  There are ample bits of information to bring these characters fully to life. 
      
Thomas excels at including real places and people into the story in a completely realistic manner.  This gives veracity to the story.  One also appreciates the Afterword providing information as to what happens with each of these figures.
      
The quality of Thomas’ writing is such that one doesn’t race through his books, but takes the time to savour and contemplate…”So, as I said, an hour and half ticked by very slowly.  Ninety minutes, five thousand and four hundred seconds subtracted from my life.  Shakespeare could have perfected a sonnet in that time, and Mozart a short libretto, if not a full score.  Not that Thomas Llewelyn could have written a sonnet or libretto, but I might have at least enjoyed the chance.” 
      
It is fascinating the things one learns from a excellent author; the difference between cobblestones and limestone setts.  Thomas is an author who educates readers on a vast array of subjects, as well as entertains.  He makes you thinks, such as in Thomas’ observations of the poor…”Anything of value whatsoever, from bits of broken glass from ale bottles to the very night soil left behind by workhorses, would be collected and sold by someone locally to whoever could turn a profit on it.”
      
There is so much one cam compliment about Thomas’ writing.  He has taken a much-trod subject and made it unique.  He has humanized the victims in a way not previously done.  Yet he also shows that bigotry, particularly discrimination on all levels against the Jews, has always been with us and that “Man requires no inspiration of hellishness, Thomas.  He can be plenty even on his own. … No religion is proof against madmen.  Not even Christianity.” 

Anatomy of Evil” is a look at the Jack the Ripper case focused not on the killings, but on the politics of the agencies involved and the times.  It's a fictionalized, fascinating and exciting investigation with a climax filled with excitement, tension and suspense, leading to a wonderful ending.  For those who love historical mysteries, Will Thomas should be on their "must-read" list.

ANATOMY OF EVIL (Hist Mys/Enq. Agents- Barker and Llewelyn-Longon-1888) - Ex
Thomas, Will – 7th in series
Minotaur Books – May 2015

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