I found this book at the library after an intense searching session of something to read that was dark, murky and was filled with atmosphere. I found a few books and honestly, the horror section of the library I go to is incredibly sad with only a couple of small shelves. When I found this, it was not in the horror or thriller section, it was under literary fiction. It wasn't that I minded but I would've put it in a different place. On the whole, this book was pretty damn good, you all know how I feel about intense atmosphere and that is probably the main reason why. I've seen many reviews absolutely slating this book and that is mainly because they didn't get it.
I'm not going to lie to you: I could've inhaled this novel.
It's 1891 in London and the air is thick and heavy, the streets are alligned with misfits and the underworld is ripe with sexual aggression. As the puritanical Victorian mid-society push the underworld even further under the ground, the tensions around what should be done with them rise. Things begin to happen that are criminal, unexplained and often - filled with strange and dishonest people.
Charles Webster is a photographer for a theatre and Marlow is one of the dishonest men of the underworld. Whilst one is trying to make a living doing some work, the other is pulling the theatre into the lives of the strange via hedonism and transgression. The atmosphere is probably heaviest when we first realise what Marlow actually does. It is a brilliant height of sensory description that is hardened by its sense of purpose - to show the differing sides of London and the wrongs of the people that think they are in the right.
I think probably the most conflicting character was Oliver Wheeler. Oliver Wheeler is a preacher of abstinence and goodness whilst also trying to force people to commit to it - which seems completely besides the point. Is not the whole point of abstinence that it is supposed to come from within someone's own want rather than done by force? And is this not exactly what they say the dishonest men of the underworld are doing - forcing people into their way of life? Oliver Wheeler may not be all that great, but he really isn't all that smart either. He has a false sense of self-worth and, with the other big egos in the novel - it is weird as to how they can all exist so well in the same space.
The ending to the book was satisfying enough and I thought that because of the use of atmosphere, it didn't really lift the darkness from the novel, but instead provided a very clear route to the resolution. The gothic oddities were still there and, in a very 'Jack the Ripper' style, there seems to be not only a killer out there, but also some sort of urban legend being created out of it. It is very clever to do in a novel, but I also think that it was very important in order to make it work due to the nature of the killing that happened.
I'm trying not to give away too much because each part of the plot is so important. I'll tell you what goes down though: a child is murdered. The whole world seems to get turned upside down and I think that the writing at this particular point in the story is probably its best because we get the view of both sides of the coin simultaneously: the aristocratic and the murky depths.
Honestly, I really enjoyed this book - it reminded me of The Limehouse Golem a bit.