Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Christopher Huang, A Gentleman’s Murder

Christopher Huang, A Gentleman’s Murder
Inkshares, Inc. 2018
© Christopher Huang 2018
ISBN 978-1-942645-95-5

In the aftermath of the Great War (not yet known as World War I), Eric Peterkin finds himself drawn into investigating the murder of Albert Benson.  Unlike the other members of the Britannica Club (of which one of Eric’s forbears was a founder), Benson had not served in the military; a conscientious objector, he had served as a stretcher-bearer in the war (and his election to membership was somewhat controversial).  Benson died after being more-or-less talked into a wager with (ex-Captain) Mortimer Wolfe—Wolfe claimed he could break into any of the safe deposit boxes that were available to the club members, and undertook to break into Benson’s.

Eric is also something of an outsider in the Britannica, as his father had married a Chinese woman; his family background causes some (including some members of the Britannica) to regard him as somewhat less than English.  And he has reason to think that the detective (Parker) in charge of the murder investigation may be concealing evidence.

Not surprisingly, the motive for Benson’s murder will be found in the past, 6 years before (in 1918), at what was a convalescent hospital for casualties of the war, and in the disappearance (and death) of Emily Wang (also half-English and half-Chinese, and a qualified nurse).  Emily was a cousin of the wife of the current president of the Britannica, and her death actually is discovered during the investigation of Benson’s murder.

The narrative becomes quite complex, and whatever official investigation is going on gets a little lost; we are focused on Eric’s attempts (ultimately successful) to find the truth.  It’s a quest that culminated in gathering of all the people involved, in one way or another—a classic gathering that would not be out of place in an Agatha Christie mystery.  And this scene is very well done.

All the characters had their points of interest (although I never quite figured out what function (other than being a sort-of-Watson) Eric’s friend Avery Ferrett actually played.  (He’s the least well-developed character in the book.)

Huang has obviously done his research; based on my knowledge of the Great War and its aftermath and of the conditions in London after the war.  The setting, the still powerful consequences of the war, and the London fog, are all vividly conveyed.  I did find a couple of things a bit difficult to accept—Eric’s last name being the one that nagged at me most, the other a scene at the Britannica after the mystery has been solved.  But overall the story works, the characters work, the setting works.  I do hope that there is more to follow.

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