The Head In The Ice: A Bowman of The Yard Investigation


Review by Sally Zigmond

In the icy winter of 1891, Inspector George Bowman of the newly created London Metropolitan Police has just been released from a lunatic asylum due to his worrying behavior following the death of his beloved wife, Anna. His police colleagues fear that when he investigates the discovery of the severed head of a woman in the frozen waters of the River Thames, he will fall apart again. A dedicated officer, Bowman is determined not to let his recurring hallucinations prevent him from solving the case.

Most of us are au fait with the dark side of Victorian London, the sharp contrast between rich and poor in their overcrowded slums, the crime and prostitution, thanks to the novels of Charles Dickens. However, James’s novels are not full of sentimentality, nor are his young ruffians angels in disguise. We smell the filth and blood and hear the screams of those beaten to a pulp by villains. As in many crime novels, it is not the vicious underclass who are the true villains, but those with power and money.

What lifts this novel above the gruesome is that the characters are real people. There’s pompous Inspector Hicks with his mutton-chop whiskers who believes he knows everything and is happy to divulge it to the editor of London’s Evening Standard newspaper. I was fond of the loyal Sergeant Graves, whose manner is the complete opposite of his name. To me, the River Thames that Bowman contemplates from his office in Scotland Yard, its ebb and flow, dominates this novel.

Although I had my suspicions as to who was the true villain quite early on, this did not mar my enjoyment of this novel. I enjoyed it hugely and look forward to reading the next two novels in the Inspector Bowman series.