It's June 1815 in Regency England. Nathaniel Conant, the current Bow Street Magistrate better known colloquially as the "Beak", is struggling with the Bow Street Runners' growing reputation as a corrupt police force more interested in lining their own pockets with graft, bribes and reward money than in dealing out justice. Henry Morton, a Bow Street Runner who stands out among his colleagues for his integrity and honesty, has been called to Portman House in Claridge Square. Halbert Glendinning, a young swell known about town for his somewhat loose behaviour, has been found dead in his hackney coach. His death has been attributed to asphyxiation on his own vomit but his fiancée, Louisa Hamilton, suspects foul play and pleads with Morton to look into the matter.
The mystery plays out very well, to be sure, but the real strength of "The Thief Taker" is the historical setting and its compelling portrayal of the interplay between the gentry, that is the silver-spooned, gentle-born moneyed set, and the common working people of the early 19th century in England. Henry Morton's tentative but blossoming relationship with the rather brash, free-thinking and sexually liberated actress Arabella Malibrant is brilliantly thought out and will put a smile on any reader's face. "The Thief Taker" is as compelling a collection of character studies as Bruce Alexander's Sir John Fielding series but written from the much earthier viewpoint of the working class Bow Street Runner's as opposed to the more upper crust perspective of the magistrate - an "Upstairs, Downstairs" story as it were narrated by someone who has access to the upper levels but is well aware of his residency and permanent placement below stairs! TF Banks brings early Regency England to life in high fidelity reality - sights, smells, sounds, dialect, illegal duels, slums, prisons, pubs, outdoor markets, dark alleys, courts, gaming houses, bordellos, street walkers, pickpockets, even a miserable flash house where child prostitutes can be purchased for a few shillings.
If you enjoy a well-plotted mystery and you like historical fiction in the bargain, then you'll certainly enjoy TF Banks' "The Thief Taker: Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner". Highly recommended. And now I'm going to try to find a copy of "The Emperor's Assassin", the second title in a series that holds tremendous promise.
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About the reviewer
Paul Weiss (cpw1952)
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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