By Gaslight by Steven Price is an atmospheric victorian mystery with an intriguing premise and fascinating characters. William Pinkerton, son of the namesake agency’s founder and quite famous in his own right, pursues a criminal who eluded his father; the notorious Edward Shade, a man whom many think dead and some think doesn’t exist at all. The key to picking up Shade’s trail may be Charlotte Reckitt. Pinkerton and English gentleman Adam Foole are both pursuing her for their own reasons. Along with Foole’s giant accomplice, Flood, they search the gaslit corners of London from its highest echelons to the lowest imaginable locales for clues to Charlotte’s whereabouts and fate.
By Gaslight is heavy on the atmosphere. Price’s background as a poet is on ample display with lyrical and beautiful phrasing throughout. The story is filled with descriptive and memorable language both of place and of character. The narrative bounces from the search in 1880s London to the American Civil War 20 years earlier. The time spent in the civil war gradually shines more light on Pinkerton, as well as Shade, lending greater understanding of the events of 1880.
The plot moves doggedly forward as clues propel the characters together and apart and gradually shine light on the central mystery. The mystery is as much who is Edward Shade and what is he to the Pinkertons as it is where might he be. There is almost an excess of language with so much time spent on descriptions that the plot can at times suffer and makes the book feel overlong. One nagging thing for most of the book was that the obsession by both Pinkertons with finding Edward Shade seemed to lack sufficient motivation. This lack balances throughout on the knife’s edge between intriguing and annoying, with a little too much time spent on the latter side. In the end, Price manages to weave all the various threads together into a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion.
Price has a knack for uniformly interesting characters both major and minor. Charlotte Reckitt may be the most interesting, and perhaps tragic, character of all.
The audio version of the book is narrated by John Lee who does an outstanding job with the material. He brings to life the lush descriptions and makes each character distinctive and easy to recognize. The voices for the Pinkertons didn’t sound very midwestern American, but I’m not sure what an 1860s or 1880s midwestern accent really sounded like. Lee added to the enjoyment of the material, which is an important factor given that the audio is nearly 24 hours long. His pacing and accents added to the mood and mystery of the material.
Fans of victorian mysteries and lush, descriptive language will enjoy this book.
I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.
Description: William Pinkerton is already famous when he descends into the underworld of Victorian London in pursuit of the fabled con Edward Shade. His father, the most notorious detective of all time, died without ever finding Shade, but William is determined.
Adam Foole is a gentleman without a past, haunted by a love affair ten years gone. When he receives a letter from his lost beloved, he returns to London to find her. What he learns of her fate, and its connection to the man known as Shade, will force him to confront a grief he thought long-buried.
A fog-enshrouded hunt through sewers, opium dens, drawing rooms, and séance halls ensues, creating the most unlikely of bonds. Steven Price’s dazzling, riveting By Gaslight moves from the diamond mines of South Africa to the battlefields of the Civil War, on a journey into a cityscape of grief, trust, and its breaking, where what we share can bind us even against our darker selves.