The Dark Palace: A Silas Quinn Mystery

Written by R. N. Morris
Review by Heather Domin

Detective Inspector Silas Quinn heads the Special Crimes Unit of New Scotland Yard, using the burgeoning technology of the early 20th century to solve his cases. As war hangs over Europe, Quinn is assigned to investigate London’s German community and identify any spies trying to infiltrate English society. He attends an Austrian director’s latest premiere to gain more information, but he finds the artifice of “kinema” distasteful and disconcerting. Then a young woman is found mutilated in a grisly imitation of the film – one eye cut out – and Quinn suddenly has a much darker case on his hands. Things get more complicated when men associated with the film begin receiving packages containing references to missing eyes. Disturbed but strangely compelled by the case, Quinn delves into the fledgling movie industry, a sordid world of blackmail, corruption, and unsettling connections to his own past.

Morris’ excellent writing pulls the reader in at once and makes it difficult to stop until the end; his style is sparse and detailed at the same time, a middle ground between the vestiges of Victorian whodunits and the beginnings of hardboiled noir. Quinn is an intriguing protagonist, not an anti-hero but not a hero either; he’s capable of deep feelings but has disconnected himself from them, becoming a man who can carry an eyeball in his pocket while musing on the nature of love. This is not a book for those easily repulsed by gore (the eyeball thing ought to be a hint), but those who don’t mind a few bodily fluids will be rewarded with a satisfying mystery. The Dark Palace is the third book featuring Silas Quinn, and I intend to put the other two on my to-read list.