1888 the Dead & the Desperate: A Story of Struggle, Passion, and Deceit

Written by A. E. Wasserman
Review by Anna Belfrage

When the bloodied body of a man is discovered in one of the seedier districts of London, Inspector Abberline takes measures to protect the dignity of the corpse. After all, it is patently obvious the dead man belongs in the circles of the wealthy, so why on earth he ended up murdered in the London docks is quite the mystery.

When Lord Langsford is informed one of his best friends, Edwin Percy, has been brutally murdered, he is distraught—even more so when it seems everything points to him being the murderer.

To add a further twist, Langsford has for some time self-medicated his ennui and darker thoughts by smoking opium, which has affected his memory. On the evening Percy died, Langford remembers taking Percy to his favourite opium den, but has no recollection whatsoever of what happened afterwards. As Abberline draws the net tighter, time starts to run out. Fortunately, Langsford has loyal servants and the unexpected support of Grace Westfield, fiancée to the murdered man.

Wasserman knows the time period, breathing life into late 19th-century London. Modern advances such as electricity and water closets contrast with abject poverty and a society where “equality” is determined by your wealth and social standing. Further to an excellent depiction of the historical setting, Wasserman delivers complex and layered characters, people it is surprisingly easy to relate to. I was especially impressed by how elegantly Wasserman described the budding relationship between Grace and Langsford, adding just a whiff of romance to an otherwise gritty story about death, vice, and betrayal.