Death and the Running Patterer

Written by Robin Adair
Review by Helene Williams

Nicodemus Dunne, formerly a Bow Street Runner, or policeman, is now a good-behavior convict in Sydney, Australia, making his living as a running patterer: he recites news items and advertisements to those who can pay for the service. In 1828, his audience runs the gamut from illiterate soldiers guarding the convict-filled colony to rich immigrants and investors. His status in the community is unusual, since he’s not a completely free man, yet he’s not one of the “Exclusives” who willingly came to settle in this new untamed land. However, his job allows him access to every level of society, which is handy when it comes to investigating a series of murders.

Men with connections to King George IV’s 57th regiment are being violently slain, with the killer leaving mysterious clues. Police superintendent Francis de Rossi brings Dunne into the case with the hope that Dunne’s ability to circulate unnoticed among the locals, along with his previous police experience, will help solve the puzzle and stop the body count.

A cast of colorful and suspect characters flows through this fast-paced adventure. Many customs of the time are explained — such as the use of cannabis twigs to prevent bedbugs — as are dozens of word origins. At times the wordplay digressions are forced and distracting, but overall they provide good context for Adair’s descriptions of life in early 19th-century Australia. His characters have the making of a good investigative team, able to work through numerous plot twists while demonstrating their human failings.

Adair has set up a strong foundation for a series involving Dunne and his cohorts, and he’s also foreshadowed plenty of situations of crime and intrigue which can presumably be tackled in future volumes.