First Sentence: It had been a long time since William Bisgrove had seen a woman.
Mrs. Rackstraw, the housekeeper to Private Enquiry Agents Matthew Grand and James Batchelor, has labeled their new client a lunatic. Yet the two men agree to take on the case of timber merchant Selwyn Byng who received a ransom note demanding £5,000 for the return of his wife, heiress to a tea import business. The next package Byng receives causes Batchelor and Grand to take the case more seriously. Is their case linked to the naked torso found by the Thames River Police? As more parts show up, it's clear there is more than one victim, and possibly, more than one killer.
In spite of the rather gruesome theme, Grand and Batchelor are just plain fun to read. Trow has delightfully wry, humor—"She looked closely at Grand. 'Are you foreign?' She raised her voice slightly, as all nicely brought up maiden ladies do when speaking to foreigners, dogs, children, and the indigent." That same humor makes even the grimmest scene enjoyable –'...Mother of God; what's that?' Crossland held the white thing in both hands, as though he was offering the inspector dessert. 'It's a body, sir…' 'Take it up top, man. God knows what it'll do to my Stilton.'
Victorian England is such a perfect setting for a murder mystery and Trow uses the setting to full advantage. He paints vivid pictures of everything from a prison cell, and the muddy banks of the Thames, to an overblown Victorian parlor. London becomes as much a character to the story as do the actual characters and Trow creates wonderful characters.
Even though their time in the story may be short, we come to know each one; their names--and what fun he has with names--and a bit of their background. They're not just anonymous figures. Each is special, with Mrs. Rackstraw and the sweet between maid Maisie being particularly important.
The plot is nicely done with the detective work and forensic details being rather fascinating. There are red herrings and twists aplenty.
"The Ring" has a very interesting conclusion and a lesson to be learned. That the story is layered upon a series of actual, unsolved murders is very cleverly done.
THE RING: A Victorian Mystery (Hist-Grand/Batchelor-England-1873) – G+
Trow, M.J. – 5th in seriesSevern House – Dec 2018