Fierce Poison (A Barker & Llewelyn Novel, 13)

Written by Will Thomas
Review by G. J. Berger

London, 1893. Former barrister and now Member of Parliament Roland Fitzhugh suddenly dies while entering the offices of Private Enquiry partners Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn. The autopsy reveals he had just eaten a raspberry tart infused with cyanide. Too late, Fitzhugh sought out Barker and Llewelyn to stop someone out to poison him. Prime Minister William Gladstone steps in and hires the investigators to find the killer.

In short order, the young lad who peddled the tarts and others in his family die from a poisonous fruit pie. Next, Barker’s valet barely survives an overdose of digitalis, and foodstuffs in the house Barker and Llewelyn share are laced with more poisons. No one has seen a culprit; no helpful clue is left behind. The investigative team and Scotland Yard scurry to catch the killer or killers before more victims topple over. Suspects range from Fitzhugh’s former law partner, criminals he had prosecuted, to his young fiancée, even.

In this thirteenth novel of the series, Thomas’s deep understanding of the place, the customs, and language of 1890s London is evident. His dialogue rings true, and his prose fits with the time. Both main characters play off nicely against each other. Barker, almost fifty years old, former boxer, and world traveler exudes experience and quiet strength. Llewelyn, twenty years younger, is impetuous, funny, and still learning. The secondary characters come across as real. Outwardly nice fellows are closet scoundrels, and former thugs have cleaned up to lead honorable lives. Who-done-it remains unpredictable to the end but, in hindsight, makes good sense. Thomas fans will enjoy this novel as will any reader looking for a believable 19th-century British murder mystery.