Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Hidden Man by Robin Blake

First Sentence:  Standing in the doorway, with medical bag in hand, Luke Fidelis peered into the shadowed room until its main features had resolved themselves:  the outline of the low pallet bed; the man’s gaunt, ghostly face looking steadily upwards; the pale hand resting motionless outside the covering blanket.
From the very beginning, Blake transports us to 1742 England, and it’s not a particularly pleasant place to be.  Life can be hard; particularly for women.
The people of Preston are looking forward to the celebration of the Preston Guild, until Phillip Pimbo, the pawnbroker and man responsible for keeping the event funds secure is found shot behind the locked door of his office.  For Coroner Cragg, all evidence points to suicide; Doctor Fidelis isn’t as certain.  To learn the truth, and even to open Pimbo’s safe, Cragg must learn the secrets of Pimbo’s life, including facts about the African slave trade and missing Civil War treasure.
Blake is incredibly clever about aligning his two characters, even down to how it can be possible for Coroner Titus Cragg to set down, in third person, the events and dialogue of Doctor Luke Fedelis without Cragg being present, while events occurring to Cragg are written in first person.  It is the complete attention to detail that makes Blake’s writing so impressive.
An author who seamlessly educates and informs, while entertaining and intriguing their audience, is one of real skill.  To learn about banking in the 1700's is fascinating.
Not only are the two main characters interesting and a good balance to one another, but one cannot help but like Titus’ wife, Elizabeth.  She is wonderfully clever.  However, her winning point comes with the words, “Titus, dearest, I’m reading.”  Some will also appreciate Titus’ issues with his in-laws.
Don’t for a moment be concerned that this is a slow read.  Whilst some may find the level of detail overwhelming, it is the details that make the story completely fascinating, thanks to the pacing of the story that picks up as one reads.  It is fascinating to see who they weave together form the whole fabric.
Blake presents the different views and attitudes of the time toward the slave trade. It is sad that, although now that the focus of present-day concerns is different, many of the attitudes remain the same:  “…it is conducted by evil men.  Why is there no outcry?”  “Because people are making money.”  Blake’s writing occasionally causes one to pause and consider…”Death is all around us, yet we will never treat it as commonplace.  I suppose it is because we don’t know the manner of our own deaths that we are so powerfully drawn to discover how others have died.”

The Hidden Man” is a very good read with an excellent plot twist, captivating characters, and a compelling plot.  It is also part of a series well worth reading.

THE HIDDEN MAN (Hist Mys-Cragg/Fidelis-England-18th Cent) - VG
Blake, Robin – 3rd in series
Minotaur Books – March, 2015

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