A Twist of Murder (A Dickens of a Crime)

Written by Heather Redmond
Review by Paula Martinac

This is the fifth in a series featuring the youthful Charles Dickens as an amateur sleuth investigating a rot at a private school attended by student Ollie Twist. Although these names suggest a parallel to the classic Dickens novel, A Twist of Murder is best read as a lively historical mystery set in rural 1836 England. There is little in the Dickens persona here that suggests the original author. Instead, funds for a private academy have gone short, students are missing, staff members are curiously unreliable, and a dangerous epidemic is spreading among the remaining students, their teachers, servants, and the visiting honored friends of the governing board.

At the heart of the skullduggery is a missing map, believed to guide the acute map reader to a missing treasure (not the funds for the academy). When deaths begin to multiply, it’s hard for a while to be sure which are intentional, and which are accidents of either the hard times or the rapidly spreading cholera. By including Dickens’s fiancée, Kate Hogarth, and a number of other nurturing and clever feminine characters, Redmond provides a delightful mélange of household life and gender role shaping. The mystery is well-constructed and paced, and the writing is smooth and open to readers new to this time period. The one drawback is an uneven spread of dialect among the characters—for an England where speech identifies class, and class in turn dictates opportunity, this American author’s relaxed writing style increases the distance from the actual Charles Dickens. However, the plus of Redmond’s accessible style is that, with little actual gore, the book can be readily shared with young adult readers as well as with their Dickens-familiar elders.