• Steve Haywood

The Strings of Murder by Oscar De Muriel

I used to not really like historical crime fiction, probably due to reading what I considered mediocre books with generic crimes dumped into a vaguely historical setting when they could have happily been shipped off to any other time period. Such books, which shall remain nameless, are now a distant memory as I've recently started getting into historical crime fiction. In the last year I've read books by Ambrose Parry (The Way of All Flesh), Antonia Hodgson (the excellent The Devil in the Marshalsea), and M J Carter (The Printer's Coffin, though in America it's called The Infidel Stain). What I look for in historical fiction are really interesting characters, well depicted settings with period detail, and of course a decent plot.

The Strings of Murder is the first book in author Oscar De Muriel's series featuring detective duo Ian Frey & 'Nine Nails' McGray. Frey is an Upper Class Englishman from a prominent family, who is despatched to Edinburgh to assist the rather more rough and ready McGray, who heads up a department (seemingly of one before Frey's arrival) investigating crimes of the supernatural. Frey is definitely a skeptic, so there's definitely a kind of Mulder & Scully X-Files-esque vibe going on at times, and even though the reader is squarely in Frey's camp most of the time, there's a definite frission of uncertainty there throughout most of the book.

In this book, the Ripper has been making bloody work of women in London, and it looks like there's a copycat on the loose in Edinburgh, hence why Frey is sent up there to investigate. It is quickly apparent, that this isn't a copycat but a killer with their own methods and motives. It all started off with a musician who was killed, and the collection of violins he's left as bequests to various people, one of which belonged to the famous composer Paganini. This violin seems to be cursed however... though the rest would be spoilers.

I really liked this book. I instantly took to the character of Frey - the book is written in the first person from Frey's perspective which helps I think. McGray is something of an oddball who is hard to warm to, but he's had an unhappy past, and by the end of the book I was pretty well thawed on him as a character. The plot was interesting, though not particularly stand out, and the historical detail was convincing, though it didn't have quite the historical detail that I've enjoyed in some of the other historical crime fiction books I've read recently. It was the definitely the character of Frey, his family and circumstances that sold me on the book however. It was also quite a quick and easy book, it flowed really well and I found myself consuming it quite speedily.

Overall, a very good start - 8/10. I'm reliably informed too that the books get better from hereon in, so I will be definitely reading more, particularly as the next book, A Fever of the Blood, is set in my native Lancashire.

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