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Much more atmospheric than mysterious

  • Feb 2, 2010
  • by
As if life for the working class in 1770 London wasn't difficult enough, Covent Garden becomes the haunting ground for an 18th century version of Jack the Ripper. A psychopathic killer is targeting the local street ladies and blind magistrate John Fielding knows the savagely brutal murders will continue until he apprehends the killer and brings him to English justice at the end of a rope on Tyburn gallows!

Despite being an easy-reading lightweight historical mystery set in Georgian England, "Person or Persons Unknown" is most definitely not a cozy mystery in the style of Agatha Christie or Susan Wittig Albert. A graphic and gritty portrayal of the rough side of 18th century London, "Person or Persons Unknown" will treat its readers to extraordinary characterization and atmospheric embellishment that brings people, time and place to life with a sparkling vitality and a sense of realism that can hardly be rivaled - the sights, the smells, the sounds, the slums, the prisons, the docks, pubs, outdoor markets, dark alleys, upstairs, downstairs, courts, gaming houses, bordellos, street walkers, pickpockets, scamps, cut purses, thieves and even the callous exhibition of a public hanging at Tyburn. Nor does Mr Alexander hold back on a very graphic description of the savagery of the prostitute murders. In short, Bruce Alexander brings a very nervous gaslit Georgian London to life with an unrivalled clarity.

Atmosphere, growth of his starring characters (most notably Sir John Fielding's protégé, young Jeremy Proctor, and former street tough, Jimmy Bunkins) as well as sparkling realistic dialogue are more than enough to compensate for the novel's obvious weakness. As a mystery, the solution is somewhat pedestrian and the hunt for the murderer seems to depend much more on happenstance and good luck than inspired detection or dogged police work and perseverance. A one-star deduction for the weakness in the plot in what would otherwise have been a stellar novel.

"Person or Persons Unknown", preceded by "Watery Grave", "Blind Justice" and "Murder in Grub Street" is the fourth entry in Alexander's highly successful Sir John Fielding series. While it does stand alone as a satisfactory mystery, readers will derive the most enjoyment if they dig into the series from the start so they can revel in Alexander's wonderful multi-story character development as well as the mystery.

Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended.

Paul Weiss

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Paul Weiss ()
Ranked #15
   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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