The Mercy Killings (Esther and Jack Enright #6), by David Field

Eight stars

David Field presents readers with another novel about the criminal element of Victorian England in the latest Esther and Jack Enright piece. Jack Enright has accepted a Detective Sergeant position in Essex, wanting to get away from the politics of Scotland Yard’s Metropolitan Police Force. While Jack enjoys the new surroundings, he is less than impressed by some less than dedicated fellow officers. A series of babies have been found murdered around Essex, snuffed out soon after birth and placed in a variety of locations. Baffled as to how he might start his investigation, Jack turns to his uncle, Percy, who remains a Detective Inspector with the Met. There has been a rise in unwanted children throughout the urban areas, England’s orphanages are overrun, yet there are too few families seeking to adopt through legal means. This has brought about the rise in baby farming, where women are peddling abandoned children to finicky couples, but the ‘leftovers’ are disposed of in quick order. These women disappear as quickly as they emerge on the scene, leaving the Enrights to chase their tails. Meanwhile, Esther has been biding her time with three children while Jack is away at work, though has been filling her time promoting Church-based adoptions, though the stories she learns leave her highly distressed. As Jack and Percy need to develop a sting operation to catch one suspected baby farmer, they turn to Esther and a new member of the family, hoping that this will quell the number of babies found disposed of like rubbish. It’s surely a matter of dismantling the operation, beginning with the lowest rungs on the ladder. Field provides an excellent plot for this piece, against a controversial backdrop in English history. Fans of the series will likely enjoy this latest piece, as might those readers who love Victorian mysteries that are read in short order.

I make a point of promoting David Field whenever I can, as his writing is not only easy to comprehend, but provides the reader with some context into the goings-on during the Victorian era. London and environs come to life in these pieces, as do some of the political issues of the day, some of which are still matters of contention. I rushed through the first few novels in the series when contacted by the publisher, and knew that I would return as soon as more novels appeared in publication. Field uses the story’s setting effectively, shifting focus to Essex without losing the narrative’s strength. Jack and Esther remain strong characters and some new developments in their familial and character aspects help pull the reader into the middle of this latest story. With an ever-growing family, the topic of baby deaths surely hits home for the Enrights, though they do not allow this to derail their attention to the crimes at hand. Field does well to never leave the reader without some new aspect of this couple, who play off one another well, without becoming too predictable. Percy and some of the other supporting characters do well to ride the wave of the narrative, helping to enrich the criminal investigation and adding unique flavours that permit Field to explore the topic at hand from a variety of vantage points. Field keeps the story fairly straightforward, though can never be accused of diluting or oversimplifying things for the curious reader. While Victorian England was surely not a time of sexual repression, contraceptives were still not readily discussed, pushing abortion into an unspoken realm. This left England with a surplus of babies and no means of handling the situation effectively. Scores of unwanted babies, abandoned for lack of desire or ability to care for them surely became a major issue, though the authorities of the time could not turn a blind eye. Field effectively educates without pushing out a soap box on the issue, permitting the reader to create their own opinion. These short reads can be digested in a single day, as I have done here, without feeling cheated. One can only hope that Field’s collection of ideas does not dry up anytime soon, as these novels are perfect for a reader who enjoys historical fiction.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for another success. I see a few more pieces are coming down the pipeline and I anticipate their arrival!

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