Dark Dawn Over Steep House

Written by M.R.C. Kasasian
Review by Valerie Adolph

This latest book in M. R. C. Kasasian’s Victorian mystery series again features Sidney Grice. As London’s foremost personal detective—his own estimate of his importance—Sidney Grice is inquiring into the death of one young woman and the savage attack on another. The attack is not just sexual but with much additional gratuitous violence.

In his investigations, his goddaughter March Middleton, a young woman who struggles to impress him as she increasingly develops her own skills as a detective, assists him. However, much of her time and focus is taken up as she tries to cover or apologize for his rudeness to all he meets, clients included. Perhaps it is merely rudeness and insensitivity, or perhaps Sidney Grice suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome. To describe him as curmudgeonly would be to understate his behavior. A gentleman, he is not. Perhaps his brusque and inconsiderate behavior is a means for the writer to be amusing or shocking or add spice to the dialogue. But, as Mr. Grice deals with an upper-class Victorian clientele, this seems particularly inappropriate.

The book is set in 1884 London with its fashionable squares, seedy slums and busy dockland vividly described. The pacing is rapid, with short chapters containing plenty of movement and action. The plotting is complex, if somewhat contrived for shock value. The characters vary widely, from the two damaged women whose case opens the action, to the Prussian count and the Chinese man from Wales, to the police detective whose presence adds a softer note to some of the harsh realities portrayed. Some might view this as a welcome addition to the genre. It is a change from the elegant manners of most Victorian mystery novels and evokes masculine grittiness instead of the more usual feminine nuance.