"Pyke ..... is a strange mixture of a character. He is an avowed thief and swindler, and not averse to committing murder if he feels it is justified, yet he appalled at the inhuman murder of innocents. He takes offence at people who try to swindle him, yet he himself is willing to swindle others. He has a soft interior, and is capable of deep love, and cold focussed revenge." [Source]When I read the above characterization I have been intrigued. I didn't take long until I found out that Pyke is the main character in the Pyke Mystery series. In the meantime I bought and read the first book in the series:
The Last Days Of Newgate (pb, 2006) [ISBN-13: 978-0753821688] by Andrew Pepper. Today I "bother" you
with my review.
Question: What do you know about the history of the London police force? I assume New Scotland Yard is not unknown to you. Do you know that New Scotland Yard is the name of the headquarter of the Metropolitan Police? Metropolitan Police (time line) has been formed by Sir Robert Peel in September 1829 - and before? Yes, there has been a professional police force before: The Bow Street Runners, founded in 1749 by author Henry Fielding. Newgate Prison has been extended and rebuilt many times during use from 1188 to 1902. In the 19th century social reformer Elizabeth Fry visited Newgate Prison.
Still awake? Asking yourself what the heck he is writing about?
After this short aside about London police I return to The Last Days Of Newgate. All the things I described before are important for the story and should illustrate you that there is a real historical background.
Read the official blurb or follow me to London in 1829. Pyke, a Bow Street Runner, gin house owner and rascal gets involved in the investigation of a brutal triple murder. In the heated atmosphere of political unrest and religious anger Pyke discover that the murder is somehow connected to the new police force which Sir Robert Peel tries to establish. To make things worse his non Bow Street Runner profession needs more attentention than expected. And there is a woman ...
What will be Pyke's price for arresting the murderers and escaping the web of intrigues, conspiracies, politics and outbreaking violence?
I told you some things about the historical background which is just one ingredient of the compelling story. The people, the places come alive in depictions of an urban landscape with seedy, dirty districts where rats count more than human beings and peppered with gory details - the level of realism is sheer incredible and scary. Combined with the intense illustration of the heated atmosphere of religious anger and political unrest you get a picture of pre-Victorian London which doesn't have to fear the competition with descriptions of London by Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins. Finally add Pyke (as described above) and an intense plot with twists and turns and enriched with partial violent action. The result is The Last Days Of Newgate.
The whole story is well crafted, delivered in a adequate prose including dialogue which sound like it has been recorded by a time traveller.
From the first page you will be immersed to a London, you would not want to visit in real life.
The Last Days Of Newgate has been a more than satisfying read. An awesome historical thriller. The Last Days Of Newgate is dark, gritty, intense and powerful with disturbing attacks on your mind. Don't read it before you sleep because you will not sleep as usual. Don't forget to close windows and doors ....
Let me come back to my introduction. I think the character Pyke fits perfectly to the described era. And I like Pyke. I do not legitimate all his actions - murder is not my preferred solution for a problem - but he follows his principles in a consistent way. He follows the motto of his tutor George Morgan:
"Do what you need to do and to hell with consequence. Take what you can but don't lose sight of who you are. And above all, don't get caught." [p. 104]I look forward to read the next Pyke Mystery - The Revenge of Captain Paine (pb, 2007) [ISBN-13: 978-0753821688] - which is sitting on my shelf. For detailed information about all books of the Pyke Mystery series click here.
I read several historical thrillers within 2010. And there are two series - both set in London but at different periods of time - which I love: Pyke Mystery series by Andrew Pepper and The Chronicles of Harry Lytle series by Paul Lawrence. I recommend them both.