Confronting the Invisible (West and Carlyle Victorian Mysteries #3), by David Field

Eight stars

It is always a pleasure to take some time when David Field releases a new novel. His latest series, set on the streets of Victorian London, never fails to stir up some thought-provoking moments, with a stellar mystery woven into the narrative. In this novel, a group of children go missing, with ties to Matthew West’s children’s Bible Group. Could he hold the key to their disappearance, or the fact that they are beginning to appear as ghosts?

It all started with the circus coming to town. Matthew West accompanies his fiancée, Adelaide Carlyle, and her father, Dr. James Carlyle, to the event. West was sure that this night out with Adelaide and her father would calm his nerves ahead of the upcoming wedding. However, during one of the trapeze acts, something goes horribly wrong and Dr. Carlyle can determine that there was some foul play.

The authorities want to hear nothing about it and permit the circus to leave town, which baffles both Carlyle and West to no end. However, life must go on. West is working as a local priest and has organised a Bible Group for some of the parish children. Adelaide comes along one week to show off her nursing skills, which includes a chance to check and treat the numerous cases of head lice. The children love it, particularly when they can show off their iodine-coloured scalps to handfuls of worried parents.

Amidst preparing for and getting married, Matthew and Adelaide discover something troubling has taken place. A number of the parish children have gone missing, most from the Bible group. What’s worse, parents are not only fraught with worry over that, but that some have been seen outside their homes, almost floating at the window. Might there be something sinister taking place in the form of a demonic possession? Matthew West is not about to wait for the authorities to connect the dots.

While West and Adelaide begin poking around, they come across the body of one missing child, her legs badly broken. Dr. Carlyle deduces that it was from a long fall, perhaps the height of a rooftop. This gets the wheels turning and West seeks to explore a little more. What he discovers not only shocks him, but sends him into a panic. Turning to the only people he can trust, Matthew West and his new wife will have to uncover who has taken the children and left them in such squalor, without alerting anyone except a handful of the authorities.

When it comes to David Field, mysteries set in Victorian England come to life. I have read a number of his series, all of which are full of historical goings-on, as well as some wonderful storytelling. This series is no exception, as each page is full of something for the reader to enjoy, while seeking to solve a well-paced mystery.

Matthew and Adelaide West appear to take centre stage in this piece, which boasts some great character development for them both. Their courtship comes to an end as they are able to finally tie the knot, though this does not dilute their passion to discover the truth of what has been going on around them. The reader will see that West is still trying to get his legs under him as a parish priest and Adelaide seeks to make her mark as a nurse, following her father in the medical profession. While their lives advance independently, they surely need each other to make a significant difference. Personal growth can be found throughout this piece, as well as some needed joint advancements that help round out the story by the end.

Field uses a handful of strong characters to support the two protagonists. The story lends itself to a great cross-section of individuals, all of whom work well together. From the stiff investigator who does not want wool pulled over his eyes, to the young children whose curiosity is second to none, Field provides the reader with education and entertainment at every turn. The Wests are surely supported well with these supporting characters and the story flows even better with their subtle steering of the narrative. Field is able to use one-off characters effectively, while also providing a handful of recurring folks that creates a connection between the novels.

Overall, the story worked really well, shining light not only on the life of the traveling circus, but the lack of structure the left many families hopeless. Young children roamed the streets and it would not be uncommon for many of them the disappear without notice. Sickness was also quite prevalent, as Field explores in the middle and latter portions of the book, sending large portions of the population into an abyss that may lead to horrible death.

With a strong narrative to keep the story moving, David Field offers readers something both entertaining and educational in equal measure. Life in Victorian England surely contrasts greatly with things today, but Field can breathe some life into it with his well-formed Cockney slang and plot lines that provide some needed context into how things were done at the time. Readers will enjoy the longer chapters, which are used to fully explore the issues of the day, though the writing is never burdensome, allowing for a quick read over a day or two. I cannot wait to see what else David Field has in store for his fans, new and established alike.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for another winner. I know I am in for a treat when I choose one of your books and you have not let me down yet.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Death Comes But Twice (Carlyle and West Victorian Mysteries #2), by David Field

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to David Field and Sapere Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

When I was given the chance to read an early copy of David Field’s newest novel, I knew it was not something I wanted to ignore. This second book in his new Victorian crime series is packed with action and a great deal of information from the time period. Field keeps the reader’s attention while spinning an duplicitous tale at a time when forensic advancements were afoot in the field of police work. When Dr. James Carlyle, a surgeon at the local London Hospital, receives a new body for autopsy, something familiar has him second guessing himself. The man before him is already dead, or was before his poisoning with digitalis. Carlyle reaches out to his sometimes colleague, Matthew West, who is a local Wesleyan street preacher. West’s interest is piqued, as he witnessed the man’s execution not long ago. Wondering if the hanging was a ruse, West returns to investigate a little more. While this is taking place, Dr. Carlyle’s daughter, Adelaide, is mounting her campaign to run for the London County Council, the first female candidate ever to do so. Without universal suffrage, she will have to appeal to the men of the district, many of whom do not take her seriously. With West agreeing to nominate her, Adelaide has high hopes of making a difference and cleaning up London as best she can. When news emerges that a second person with ties to the hanging turns up dead, Carlyle and West begin to wonder if a cover-up is taking place, though they cannot be sure who might be orchestrating it. West receives an interesting proposition by a wealthy London businesswoman, one Mary Miller, who wishes him to work with her to abolish capital punishment. While he is intrigued, there is something not entirely right about her. As West and Carlyle dig a little deeper, they discover that Mary Miller has quite the past, including an indirect tie to West himself. When more men turn up dead, the rush is on to discover who is killing them and what faking an execution might have done to advance someone’s cause. Miller seems innocent, but there is too much in her past to simply dismiss her as a suspect With all this going on, West is also trying to secure himself permanent employment and something even more important. There is little time to wait and much to do before a killer slips away, with additional targets sure to follow. A stunning addition to this new series, Field exemplifies that he is not an author to be taken lightly. Recommended to those who love a quick-paced mystery, as well as the reader who loves Victorian crime thrillers.

Having first come to know about David Field when I read some of his earlier Victorian novels in another series, I was pleasantly surprised at how entertaining and educational his pieces can be. I was pleased to see Field return with a new series set in this same era, permitting him to expand on the mysteries of the time, but from a unique perspective. Field uses two strong protagonists, with hints that a third might be in the making. Matthew West continues to grow as a preacher to the poor and out of luck, though he seeks more. His amateur sleuthing ways work well for him as he tries to get to the bottom of the case at hand, though the pressure to find something permanent serves as an underlying bit of character development as the move gains momentum. West has some ideas, but is still too timid to take life by the horns and steer it in the direction he wants most. Dr. James Carlyle is both his colleague and polar opposite, with medical knowledge and life experience that makes him the more grounded of the two. Carlyle educates West (and the reader) to some of the new forensics being used, something called ‘fingerprints’, as well as the details of pharmaceutical poisonings. Carlyle reveals some interesting facts about the case, where possible, while also trying to parent Adelaide, who continues to stir up the pot with her women’s rights movement and attempts to win a seat on the London County Council. Adelaide becomes a third protagonist throughout this piece, pushing her ideas and keeping a constant eye on Matthew West, as their romantic chemistry seems to be building, though neither is ready to admit it to the other. Field uses other characters to enrich the reading experience, offering a great deal of flavouring to an exciting story. With an interesting premise, Field pulls on some of the sentiments surrounding capital punishment, women’s rights, and the dawn of forensic advancements to create this story that is as easy to read as it is captivating. With a mixture of chapter lengths, Field keeps the reader guessing what is to come with each plot reveal. The narrative flows really well and is peppered with great cockney slang to add a layer of realism to the banter between characters. I am eager to see what else the West-Carlyle duo (trio) undertake in upcoming pieces, especially with some of the revelations in the final chapter of this novel.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for keeping me entertained from cover to cover. I just saw the announcement of the series’ third novel and cannot wait to get my hands on it soon!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: