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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons