Old Scores is ninth in Thomas’s excellent Victorian-era series featuring enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn. The Japanese are in London in 1890 to establish an embassy. Barker, having previously lived in Japan, has a Japanese garden to show off. Nothing about the visit seems out of the ordinary, and yet that night, the ambassador is shot and killed, and Barker is found nearby, armed. With the London police convinced of his guilt, the new ambassador hires him to find the real killer.
“Otherness” is the main theme in this book. Barker is a Scotsman; Llewelyn a Welshman; butler Jacob Maccabee is Jewish; Barker’s friend Ho is Chinese and scorns the Japanese. The Japanese had been living in isolation until 1853. Each character understands what it’s like to not be of the dominant culture, English. Barker navigates these cultures with aplomb, but he conceals his personal connection to the delegation from Llewelyn. The final settling of scores is both shocking and completely in character for all involved. Barker and Llewelyn draw comparisons to Holmes and Watson but are distinctive in their own right. Thomas has created a complex, fully realized world, from the serenity of Barker’s garden to the opium den in Limehouse.