The Murder Pit (An Arrowood Mystery)

Written by Mick Finlay
Review by Susan McDuffie

London, 1896: Private detective William Arrowood detests his famous contemporary, Sherlock Holmes. Unlike the upper-class society that favors Holmes, Arrowood’s turf is the grittier underbelly of Victorian London. A Mr. and Mrs. Barclay engage Arrowood to contact their mentally defective daughter, Birdie, who has married and now lives on a farm outside the city. They claim Birdie has not communicated with them since her marriage, and they fear she is held at the Ockwood farm against her will. Arrowood and his partner, Norman Barnett, visit the farm but are abruptly turned away. They meet with an old tinker woman, who then vanishes, and Arrowood fears the worst. The local police are sympathetic to the Ockwoods and uninterested in the woman’s disappearance, but Arrowood and Barnett doggedly pursue the grim leads they find, while continuing to try to contact Birdie. The case eventually takes them to the Caterham Asylum for Safe Lunatics and Imbeciles, leading not only to murder, but also to fraud on a grand scale.

This book, the second in the series, vividly portrays a darker parallel universe to the world of Holmes and Watson. Arrowood’s London is far more visceral, sensual, and less cerebral. Arrowhead and Barnett are both complex men, each facing their own demons. Fists fly, copious amounts of gin and Vin Mariani (a potent mixture of Bordeaux and cocaine) are downed, and all the many varied characters ring true to their times and circumstances. Finlay masterfully brings this Victorian world to life, and the book is a compelling read. Recommended.