The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows

The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows

The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows by Matthew A. J. Timmins (Humor/Mystery)

This is probably the most unique work I’ve reviewed in a very long time. It reads like a historical novel set in Victorian London, with a strong sense of place and gritty, Dickensian characters with lots of quirks and warts. At the same time, it’s very funny.

The setting is not exactly London but the very similar city of Claudon, capital of Albion, on the banks of the River Plew. Our anti-hero, Mr. Robin Sparrows, is a lowly legal clerk who is paid a pittance to do menial tasks for a disreputable law firm. He’s a timid, self-effacing fellow who falls prey to all sorts of dilemmas, most often due to the nefarious behavior of others. Still, his sense of duty propels him forward and keeps him going as he seeks to deliver a package to the Empire’s most notorious criminal, a man responsible for starting the Crocodile War with the nation of Crocodon.

I loved many things about this book. The writing is superb. The eccentric characters are entertaining, and the names of places — Upper-Hem-On-The-Edge, St. Audley’s Home for Limbless Soldiers — and the names of people — Lord Ernest Arenblast, the diminutive Warden Webert Stillbee — have the sparkling creativity of J.K. Rowling. I found myself chuckling at clever similes and plays on words as well as the outlandish situations in which the hapless Robin finds himself — attempting to hide on a windowsill while being attacked by a territorial pigeon was just one of many.

Readers with an appreciation for the mildly absurd and those who enjoy clever narrative and strong writing skills will find this refreshing novel most entertaining. If Mr. Sparrows were to return with new adventures, I would be happy to meet up with him again.

Grandma gives The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Ruler of the Night

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Ruler of the Night by David Morrell (Historical Fiction/Mystery)

Ruler of the Night is a blend of fact and fiction and is the final installment in a trilogy of murder mysteries set in Victorian England during the Crimean War. In 1855 a respected gentleman is brutally murdered on an English passenger train, setting off a frenzy of fear among travelers on this new mode of transportation. In the adjoining compartment are Thomas De Quincey, the brilliant author famous for writing about his on-going addiction to opiates, and his twenty-two-year-old daughter, Emily, who serves as his caregiver. Together with two Scotland Yard detectives, they seek to solve the murder and soon become involved in a much larger plot involving the Prime Minister of England, members of London’s high society, a German doctor accused of murdering Czar Nicholas of Russia, and a water-cure clinic on the outskirts of London that panders to the wealthy.

David Morrell is an acclaimed writer of both fiction and non-fiction, beginning with his debut novel in 1972, First Blood. His extensive research into the life and times of Thomas De Quincey brings this unusual man and his feisty daughter to life. De Quincey uses logic and clues in ways not yet common to police work, and his daughter’s knowledge of medicine gives them additional insights. Morrell vividly portrays the oddities and attitudes of the time period, effectively transporting the reader to smoky Victorian London with all of its grit and smells and discomforts alongside the haughty opulence of its upper class. The fast-paced story, told from multiple points of view, quickly involves us in the action and keeps us guessing while moving toward an exciting and satisfying conclusion.

Lovers of historical fiction, the Victorian era, or simply a good, well-written thriller will enjoy this book.

Grandma gives Ruler of the Night five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books was given a free copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

By Gaslight

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By Gaslight by Steven Price (Historical Fiction, Mystery)

This book does a superb job of transporting the reader to gas-lit Victorian London and post-Civil War U.S.A., as well as the diamond mines of South Africa. Steven Price’s rich and descriptive prose sets the mood and atmosphere and satisfies the reader who appreciates literary fiction. The story alternates between the viewpoints of William Pinkerton, a detective searching for the criminal who eluded his famous father, the American detective Allan Pinkerton, and Adam Foole, a conman searching for his lost love. Their paths cross, and we have a front row seat to their interactions as they pursue a common person of interest, Edward Shade.

The work is quite long, and at times I found the pace to be somewhat slow. However, each time I picked it up, I was immediately drawn back in by the language and no-holds-barred descriptions of people, places, and lifestyles that made me glad I did not live in those times. This book is not for the faint of heart. You will smell noxious fumes, witness disgusting lack of personal hygiene up close, and inspect the dismembered remains of a murdered woman. The air around you will feel heavy, you’ll be wandering dark streets in the fog, and you’ll share the main characters’ desperation when things go wrong. In short, if you enjoy historical fiction, you’ll be in your element.

Steven Price writes without the use of quotation marks to delineate dialogue, and at first that can be disconcerting. However, their absence seemed to fit with the spare, deprived, and depraved times into which this book immerses the reader, and once I became used to it, I rarely noticed their absence.

Grandma gives By Gaslight four stars.4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.