Book Review: Fatal Enquiry

Another month, another mystery to review.  This book pleasantly surprised me and reminded me of Sherlock Holmes so much!  And anything that reminds me of my favorite dude from literature is going to be good.

Title: Fatal Enquiry

Author: Will Thomas

Publisher/Price: Minotaur Books / $18.92 (hardcover), $12.96 (paperback) here

Number in series: 6

Type: Fiction

Genre: Mystery

Number of pages: 304

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Overview: Cyrus Barker's official line of work is private enquiry, and he works closely with his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn.  Aristocrat and sociopath Sebastian Nightwine, a friend-turned-foe from Barker's time in the army, has returned to London after having been chased into the far corners of the earth after Barker attempted to bring him to justice for the alleged murder of his brother.  Now he's back, under the protection of the British government, though he is widely known for his heinous crimes.  Barker is determined to substantiate evidence against Nightwine that would put him away forever – mostly his new plan hatched against a small Asian country – but his arch-nemesis is determined to stop him.  And he almost does, too – planting a murder on Barker, getting the police after him, and ransacking his house.  In a cat-and-mouse game that forces the pair of fugitives across London in varying disguises and into the sorts of places that would make Barker's proper English cook go into seizures, Barker remains a step or two ahead of Nightwine, even when it appears his enemy has won.  In the end, the two men, one a skilled soldier and the other optimistically optimistic agree to a duel.  Nightwine ends up dead, but not before he poisons Barker. Nightwine's daughter, however, show up in the nick of time and saves Barker's life.  Barker makes a full recovery, and he and Llewelyn discover that not only is Nightwine's daughter up to no good, but Nightwine never killed Barker's brother.

My thoughts:  As I said in my first post of the month where I shared the books I planned to review this month, I knew absolutely nothing about this novel (or series) when I checked it out from the library.  But I am always interested into mysteries set in Victorian England, or, let's be honest, mysteries set anywhere, and I liked the cover, so I said, "why not," and checked it out.  And I am happy to say that I am glad I chose to.  This series and its sleuthing duo are so similar to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson that I had to stop and remind myself that they were not, in fact, Holmes and Watson throughout the book.  It was almost unnerving.  The first part of the book reminded me of BBC's Sherlock Holmes: some of the thing Barker said were so much like something Sherlock would say in that show.  At times, Barker treats Llewelyn in much the same way Sherlock treats Watson.  They more or less think they know everything and sometimes get exasperated with others who do not think like they do.  The other half of the book, however, Barker reminded me so much of Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes, that his face in my mind is now permanently the face of Holmes in those movies.  Barker even wears dark lenses, like RDJ's Sherlock.  As a result of this super close comparison between the sleuths and their partners, I will probably compare the two a little in this review.

In this book, Barker does not come off like a super-genius, like Sherlock.  He is smart, and logical, and has connections all of the city, who provide a lot of information, but he is a great deal more physical than Sherlock.  He's muscled and knows his way around weapons.  He is eccentric, fairly unpredictable, but surprisingly human.  He shows emotion and feeling far more freely than any Sherlock Holmes I've met (he's not Sherlock Holmes, Ella), and he has close friends.  I found Barker to be a very likeable character in this book, especially when I had RDJ's face associated with his name.  I was a little surprised by how much I liked him, because we don't see a whole lot of him in this book.  The novel is written from Thomas Llewelyn's viewpoint, and he and Barker are very unlike Sherlock and Watson in that they are close associates, but not inseparably close friends like Conan Doyle's heroes.  I found Llewelyn to also be incredibly likeable.  He is a great deal smarter than Watson, with more sarcasm and snark (I laughed out loud at something he said), and he is not afraid to go out and do his own sleuthing apart from Barker.

I also enjoyed the plot.  I haven't recently read anything where there is a strong character placed in opposition to the main character, and I liked that for a change.  Sebastian Nightwine is a despicable person, and I loved seeing him and Barker go at it.  Another thing I loved about the plot was the way the two sleuths were being chased by the person they were trying to find out.  I know that's not like an amazing new thing that's never been done before, but it was fun following them around London as they try to stay away from not only their enemy, but also the police.  I also really enjoyed the story from the first-person viewpoint of Thomas: he has an engaging voice and a pleasant amount of humor.   The plot twist at the end of the book – Barker's death, and then not-death, really surprised me and caught me off guard.  I mean, looking back, it was kind of predictable, but I guess I'm just kind of gullible when it comes to mysteries, which makes them fun to read.  And the ending of the book really makes me want to read the next one, which I don't think is out yet.

The author's writing style is perfectly suited to what he writes about – I think it's great.  It's the kind of writing that makes the story the highlight, and not the writing, which is the best sort of writing, according to Roy Peter Clark.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book: the characters were likeable and engaging, the plot was fast-paced and interesting, and the writing style suited to the story.  I will definitely continue to read this series and I recommend it to mystery readers and fans of Sherlock Holmes!

*This was a book I picked up for the Snagged @ The Library Reading Challenge this year.  Find out more about that challenge here.

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