The Detective Wore Silk Drawers

Written by Peter Lovesey
Review by Bruce Macbain

The second of Peter Lovesey’s Victorian mysteries (now reissued) plunges Sergeant Cribb and Constable Thackery into the underworld of bare-knuckled pugilism. In 1880, fighting with “the raw ‘uns” has been outlawed in England for a decade, yet matches in out-of-the-way locales still draw huge crowds. When the headless body of a man with scarred knuckles washes up on the Thames Embankment, Cribb recruits a young policeman, Henry Jago, to pose as one of these midnight pugilists. But young Henry, good-looking, fit, earnest and callow, is no match for the seductive, sadistic Mrs. Vibart, who manages a stable of brutal fighters on her estate. And when Mrs. V. is herself found brutally murdered in her bed, the evidence points to, of all people, Henry. Will Sergeant Cribb crack the case—and hopefully before the unfortunate Henry is beaten senseless in the ring? Read on.

Like all the Sergeant Cribb mysteries, this one is deftly plotted, lightly ironic, and full of the color of Victorian sport.