A year after serial killer John Whittaker’s reign of terror was brought to a swift and righteous conclusion, London finds her streets darkened with the blood of innocents once again. Disfigured bodies with vile, ritualistic markings are turning up at an alarming rate, and the police are at a loss to apprehend the killer, who always seems to be one step ahead of them. Detective Inspector Phillip Devlin of Scotland Yard is having problems of his own. Having fallen for his younger constable, Freddie Collins, Devlin finds that leading his double life is often more complicated than he’d originally thought. But for now he must set aside his worries, as he is called on once more to catch a killer and expose the perpetrator of this latest threat to his beloved city.
Review by Erastes
This is the sequel to A Cold Blooded Scoundrel which I reviewed last year. I was a little trepidatious setting out with this book, because I’d been disappointed with the ending of Scoundrel, but Paragon of Animals picks up the ball from Scoundrel and doesn’t disappoint at all.
Inspector Devlin, a man more set in his ways than someone mired in concrete, is having to deal with a great deal of change. Not only is he now living with the nice-but-dim Freddie Collins, (“for reasons of economy” as he repeats to anyone who suspects him of something worse) but he has a new boss, and worse, he’s being forced to move offices as Scotland Yard moves from the eponymous yard to the Norman Shaw building (where they reside today) at the Embankment. Then he’s thrown yet another macabre and gruesome case that no-one else wants. Add to that rivalries with his peers, a friend gone missing, and Freddie who’s behaving oddly, life is stretching Devlin just as far as he can be stretched.
Devlin is a marvellous invention, and you may see glimpses of other notable detectives in his work, but he’s his own person for all that. What’s wonderful about him is that he’s entirely obsessed, a little like Samuel Vimes in the respect that he eats, sleeps and breathes his work–and when a case really occupies his mind, he finds it hard to see the world around him. This makes him deliciously real and you find yourself wanting to thump him, because – like Vimes – it does his personal life no good at all. He’s no Mary-Sue. He doesn’t look at cigar ash and know that it was dropped by a Chinaman returning from Shanghai with a parrot and a taste for peppermints. He just glares at cigar ash (again, like Vimes) and wishes clues were of more use.
The plot in this is much tighter than Scoundrel, and the ending particularly is much neater and works better for the genre. Along the way, Ms Cook drags all kind of scents across our path, beautiful and dangerous renters, macabre women with filed, pointed teeth, child abusers and clubs of very questionable taste. Like all good detective stories (and believe me, BOTH Scoundrel and Paragon are just that, good detective stories) you’ll not guess the culprit and are likely at the end to be wondering about many loose ends that aren’t tied up.
I actually like this approach, because 1. I know the author is planning more in this series and 2. because that’s life. Life isn’t neatly tied up, and although several of the murders are solved – there are things left for us to ponder about, and if I’m still pondering about a book days after finishing it, then that’s a big success for me. It also leaves things open for books to come, which makes me happy too.
Let me put a big read flag out here, because it has to be emphasized. THIS IS NOT A ROMANCE. So take that on board, and all it implies. Be warned.
Cook’s research is impeccable, it’s hard to believe that she’s not English, and it’s even harder to believe that she doesn’t live in 1890 London. Her depth of description (often very visceral, and loaded with sights and smells) is impressive and you are never jolted out of that dark, miserable city that Devlin inhabits.
I wouldn’t say it’s entirely necessary to have read Scoundrel before reading this, but you’ll probably enjoy this more if you did. But it can be read as a standalone.
If you like Victorian murder mysteries, I’m sure you’ll like this. Annoyingly, there are no copies – other than second hand – from UK Amazon but I recommend that it’s worth hunting down if you can.