Dead Loss

Written by Joan Lock
Review by Sally Zigmond

London in the 1880s is on high alert. Fenian extremists are planting bombs with devastating effect. Criminals move in and out of the country with apparent ease. Other nations seem less than ready to co-operate and beleaguered Metropolitan Police find themselves working more like the secret service than crime solvers. Inspector Best is given the task of befriending an Irish print worker who may or may not be a Fenian sympathiser who could lead him to the perpetrators. However, sitting and waiting is anathema to an active police officer and he is soon distracted from this important work when he suspects a female fraudster is at work. Soon he is investigating both a vicious murder and a suspicious disappearance. Are the Fenians involved and will his pursuit of the fraudsters compromise his surveillance work?

This is a highly enjoyable read. Inspector Best and his wife are engaging characters and the plot has many twists and turns. The author’s research is impeccable. She is highly knowledgeable about the London police at the time, the Fenian campaign, the devastation of the French vineyards by phylloxera, not to mention the railways and the topography of Victorian London. If I have any criticism it is that she often finds herself unable to let go of her research. She often gives us too background detail than is necessary for this kind of novel. I realise this is an occupation hazard for historical novelists, but I wish her editors had been a little more robust. This would have prevented what could have been a heart-in-mouth thriller becoming just that bit too sedate.