Tom Wasp and the Murdered Stunner
Tom Wasp is one of the most engaging characters I’ve encountered in years. A Victorian chimney sweep and not ashamed to be so, he finds himself posing for painter Valentine Drake, a member of a painting group known as the Angels (not to be confused with the Pre-Raphaelites, whom the Angels acknowledge). Drake enlists Tom to be in a painting with model Bessie Barton, with whom Drake, as well as the other Angels, is in love. Tom and Bessie become matey, and so he is devastated to find her body washed up on the banks of the Thames. With the help of his apprentice Ned, an eleven-year-old pickpocket, Tom makes it his mission to find Bessie’s murderer.
Myers illuminates the world of flower sellers, milliners’ assistants, and chimney sweeps, but the mystery itself is rather creaky. All of the Angels fall under suspicion, and, with the exception of Drake, they’re nasty pieces of work for all their high-mindedness about art. Plus, there’s the usual gathering of all the suspects in one place to meet a possible witness who then ends up dead. All of these clichés are forgiven, though, when told in Tom’s voice. He brings his world to life with a very clear-sighted vision of who he is, what he does, and his place in society.