The Gaslight Stalker (The Esther and Jack Enright Mysteries #1), by David Field

Eight stars

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

Exploring Victorian England’s criminal underbelly through the eyes of David Field proves not only to be a harrowing experience for the reader, but one that pays off exponentially. In the summer of 1888, young Esther Jacobs makes her way down to one of the popular drinking establishments in search of her neighbour. While Esther does make her plea, it falls on deaf ears and the young seamstress returns home empty-handed. When she wakes the next morning, news of her neighbour’s murder brings Esther back to the seedy neighbourhood, shocked to learn the horrible news. It is there that she meets Constable Jack Enright, who tries to learn what Esther might have seen. Piecing together what other witnesses have mentioned, Esther is able to guide Constable Enright in the proper direction and turns into a valuable citizen on the investigation. It would seem that the slain woman was seeking to play her role as a prostitute for some local soldiers, something that baffles Esther. When more women turn up dead, also providing ‘nighttime services’, Esther and Constable Enright worry that a serial killer is on the loose, his murderous rampage leaving the victims horribly gutted. During their investigation, both Esther and Jack—as he likes to be known when not on duty—develop a romantic connection that seems to pose problems in the Enright household. Still, Esther holds firm to her love and yet is able to keep a level head when dealing with the police. As Scotland Yard is seeking a quick solution to this murder spree, Esther is able to weasel out some key information that might help find a murderer. The papers report letters attributing the murders to a ‘Jack the Ripper’, leaving London to wonder if their serial killer has been named, his identity still veiled. Field does a masterful job in weaving this historical murder mystery through a short narrative. Perfect for those who love mysteries set in the Victorian Era.

This is my introduction to David Field and his work, but it will surely not be my last. When the publisher asked if I would read this series debut, I did not hesitate to add it to my pile, especially after reading the dust jacket summary. Field hooks the reader from the outset, not only with his setting, Victorian England, but also with his ability to paint characters in such a colourful fashion. Esther Jacobs emerges onto the scene and her character develops quickly from there. An orphan who is working to keep her family business afloat, Esther’s naïveté is soon challenged with the rough speech of those around her and the murder investigation in which she finds herself working. Esther’s softness is complemented by Constable Jack Enright, who is new to the police, but whose family has deep roots within Scotland Yard and is well-established with money and prestige. While Jack is not ensconced in this lifestyle, Field injects some family members to show what money and power can do. Some of the secondary characters fit perfectly into the story, complete with their Cockney speech and wayward manner, allowing the reader to feel as though they are in the middle of the action. The story itself flows well and keeps a decent pace. With only a short time for Field to develop his narrative, there is little time for extemporaneous blather. Quick chapters keep the reader wanting to know more and pushing to find out who might be responsible for this string of murders. Plus, with the Jack the Ripper theme peppering the story, everyone is left to wonder if this might have been part of his early killings. I can only hope that Field keeps writing these sorts of mysteries for all to enjoy.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for this wonderful debut. I am eager to get my hands on the next Esther and Jack novel, which could be a very exciting series for sure.

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