The Fourteenth Letter

Written by Claire Evans
Review by Sarah Cuthbertson

The story, set in London in 1881, begins in dramatic fashion with the brazen murder of Phoebe Stanbury. A naked stranger covered in mud gatecrashes her engagement party, cuts her throat in front of her guests and whispers to her fiancé, the son of a prominent industrialist, ‘I promised to save you’, before disappearing. Detective Inspector Harry Treadway investigates and so does a timid young solicitor’s clerk, William Lamb, after an encounter with a mysterious old man bearing secrets.

This intricately plotted novel is full of twists and turns as a cast of colourful characters takes the stage, including a wealthy widowed vicomtesse in cahoots with her half-brother, the German Chancellor who is up to no good, and a gun-toting American woman, all of whom lead the tale down some sinister alleys, seemingly unconnected, until the various strands start to intertwine as one reads on. Victorian London, from opulent hotel to Whitechapel slum, is vividly evoked, the capital of a country wrestling with the ethical dilemmas posed by technological and scientific advances.