A Shadow on the Lens

Written by Sam Hurcom
Review by Douglas Kemp

Thomas Bexley is a forensic photographer (one of the first in the country) working for the Metropolitan Police. It is June 1904, and he is asked to examine the evidence, take photographs and investigate the circumstances surrounding the murder of a sixteen-year-old girl, Betsan Tilny, in Dinas Powys, a small village in South Wales.

Bexley narrates the story from the safe distance of 1913, but the reader is immediately made aware that something deeply unpleasant happened during his investigations nine years before. As soon as he arrives in the village to begin his detective work, Bexley develops a life-threatening raging fever, which causes disturbing hallucinations and affects his judgment – so that the reader cannot be sure what objectively occurred and what is the product of his delirious imagination. Notwithstanding the effect of the fever, he is an imperious and rather unpleasant character. There are mysteries to unravel and secrets to discover, all done in Bexley’s rather blundering bull-at-a-gate manner.

While I enjoyed the story, and in particular the climax was well presented, the narrative doesn’t ring true somehow; it lacks that sense of authenticity that fully enwraps the reader. The characters are odd and lack credibility: they do not always convince in what they say and do. There is also some anachronistic use of words that were not common currency at the time of the novel, as such “skillset” and the use of the term “Ms”. An entertaining tale that rips along, but ultimately, a bit of a disappointment.