Now I am not saying that I loved ‘‘The Murder Pit’ by Mick Finlay, but after 2 chapters I was emailing my thanks to HQ Stories, ordering Book 1 (‘Arrowood’) and thanking my book blogging guardian angel for this book tour!
I am a huge fan of Victorian literature and any spin on the detective genre has me keenly engaged, this , however, is something else!
William Arrowood and Norman Barnett have one of the least enviable professions in London-they are enquiry agents at the same time as Sherlock Holmes. They are the ones that people turn to when Holmes is unwilling or unable to have his services engaged and they get little thanks for their efforts.
In ‘The Murder Pit’, book 2 in the series, they are hired to investigate the wellbeing Birdie Ockwell, daughter of Mr and Mrs Barclay who has not been accepting visitors since she was married off and went to live on the Ockwell Farm.
Facing stiff opposition , and physical violence in their attempts to assess whether or not Birdie is being held against her will, Arrowood and Barnett are told by the Ockwells, and their farm hands that Birdie is happy and does not want to see her parents.
Which set of people is telling the truth and who is lying is impossible to ascertain , all they can see of Birdie is her face at a window in the farmhouse, holding up a picture of Brighton Pier.
Contending with scandalous name calling in the press, obfuscation at every point of enquiry and grave concerns for the ‘feeble minded’ Birdie and her fellow farm workers, Arrowood and Barnett find themselves in a literal and physical quagmire of deceit, fraud, and indefensible treatment of the mentally handicapped.
This meticulously researched novel works on so many levels-on the surface it is a detective story, but it also throws a light on the way that the mentally ill have been treated in the not so distant past, how they were exploited and the charges for which someone could be committed to an asylum. Basically anything could be used as an excuse to incarcerate an annoying relative into a pauper’s asylum and there are heart-breaking scenes which honestly had me gasping in shock.
The essential humanity of Arrowood and Barnett and their helpers contrasts so vividly with the villains of the novel that your are completely on their side.
”Holmes works by physical clues and his famous logic,but I’ve found in my work that many cases do not have clues.Instead they have people,and people are not logical.Emotions are not logical .To solve those cases you need to understand their pain,their confusion,their desire for recognition. You must try to see the world the way they see the world,and I’ll give you ten to one they don’t see it as you do. I’ve nothing against Holmes, Reverend,it’s just that he believes emotions are antagonistic to clear reasoning. I work differently. I’m an emotional detective . I try and solve my cases by understanding people.”
It’s a damning indictment on the way handicapped people used to be treated and it made me, as a reader, reflect on how much has changed since these times, and the way that we integrate people into society who would once have been shunned and locked away. It is still far from perfect, but I shudder at the way many characters in this novel were treated through no fault of their own.
‘The Murder Pit’ is a novel with heart, dark humour and flawed protagonists who are trying to make a living as well as making a difference in the world. Bermondsey born and bred Barnett and his guvnor, the laudanum swilling, gout suffering Arrowood, are trying to make a stand for those who are unable to do so . They made a huge impression on me and I cannot wait to read more!