Book review: Fugitive from the Grave by Edward Marston
Identical-twin detectives Peter and Paul Skillen are called on to investigate the strange fate of a missing beggar, a band of shadowy highwaymen, body snatchers, a stalker and a wily thief in the fourth thrilling tale in the Bow Street Rivals mystery series.
Set in London in 1817, with the city ‘awash with beggars,’ and numerous reported incidences of plundered graves and highway robberies, Fugitive from the Grave is the latest novel from Edward Marston, the pseudonym of prolific British author Keith Miles.
Best known for his popular Railway Detective series, set in 1850s England, Marston is also responsible for well over one hundred novels, including numerous critically acclaimed Elizabethan and medieval mysteries and a series set in the Great War.
His latest book, a Regency period mystery, begins with the Skillen twins hot on the trail of the crafty Harry Scattergood, a ‘small, agile and fearless’ thief in his late forties who leads the Bow Street Rivals a merry dance across London.
Lascivious, conceited, and supremely resourceful, Harry ‘floats from room to room like a phantom’ and occasionally allows himself be caught in order to escape from custody and embarrass his foe in the process. He has the twins and their fierce rivals, the official guardians of law and order known as the Bow Street Runners, believing ‘it’s easier to catch moonbeams in a jar.’
While trying to apprehend the delightfully devious crook, the detective brothers try to juggle numerous other ongoing cases, including a spate of bodysnatching incidents and a highway robbery involving Paul’s lover, Hannah Granville, a famous actress of ‘fabled beauty’ whose stagecoach gets held up by masked men on her journey to Bath to perform in a Shakespeare comedy at the Theatre Royal.
Extreme anxiety brought on by the attack, the unwanted attentions of one of her many ardent admirers, and the unexpected appearance of a despised rival who, in the past, has proven to be ‘a sly, cunning, deceitful, disruptive reptile,’ unsettle Hannah and add knotty complications to Paul’s investigations.
Meanwhile, Peter Skillen, focusing wholly on dealings in London, is employed by Clemency van Emden, a married woman who resides in Holland, to unravel a curious mystery surrounding her estranged father, George Parry.
A successful, widely respected engineer and draughtsman, Parry somehow got into dire financial straits and wound up destitute. Rumoured to have turned to alcohol and gambling, he was last seen ‘begging in the streets.’
His daughter, who many years earlier defied her father’s wishes and married a Dutchman, has not communicated with him since.
However, a letter informing her that her father is dead and buried brings her back to London, desperate to locate his grave and discover the truth about his ‘rapid decline into penury.’
Unfortunately, no sooner does Peter manage to locate the man’s grave than grave robbers strike, leaving the empty casket as ‘a grim epitaph’ and presenting a dark, perplexing mystery for Peter to solve before the rival detective team of Micah Yeomans and Alfred Hale of the Bow Street Runners blunder onto the scene, trample over all the clues, and try to steal credit for everything.
As with previous books in the series, Fugitive from the Grave is a rollicking adventure that expertly stitches together multiple intriguing storylines, carefully draws its core mystery to the surface, and delivers some dramatic, satisfying surprises along the way.
(Allison & Busby, hardback, £19.99)