A Trick of the Light


I came to the particular delights of James McLevy, inspector of police in the Edinburgh district of Leith during the 1880s, through David Ashton’s radio dramatisations for the BBC, starring Brian Cox (no, not that one, the other one). Ashton has now produced novelisations of three of his plays, of which A Trick of the Light is the latest.

It is Halloween 1881, and McLevy is investigating a series of crimes from a break-in at the home of a genteel widow to the grisly murder of a prosperous ship-owner. They are apparently unconnected, yet all enquiries seem to lead inexorably towards Sophia Adler, a young and beautiful American spiritualist whose séances are currently captivating Edinburgh society. McLevy is assisted in his investigations by his loyal sidekick, Constable Mulholland; the brothel madam, Jean Brash, with whom he enjoys an unfathomable but erotically charged relationship; and, on this occasion, an enthusiastic young doctor, a friend of the genteel widow and fan of Miss Adler, called Arthur Conan Doyle.

This is a blissful gothic romp, ingeniously plotted and written in the flamboyant style that will be familiar to fans of the radio plays, full of clever intertextual allusion, deep irony and witty double entendre. For relief from the baking heat of Mediterranean beaches this summer, why not plunge into a dreich Edinburgh autumn and follow McLevy’s trail through the dark wynds and simmering drawing rooms of the city which is without doubt the Capital of Crime? Tremendous fun.

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