Monday, July 13, 2015

Review of The Detective Branch by Andrew Pepper (Phoenix, 2010)

London, 1844.  When three men are shot dead in a pawn brokers, Inspector Pyke of the newly formed Detective Branch is assigned the case.  Pyke has an uneasy relationship with his men, a past he’d sooner keep hidden, and an uncanny ability to rub his superiors up the wrong way whilst getting results.  Using his contacts in the underworld and journalism he starts to piece together the case leading him into conflict with local gangs, church leaders and his own bosses.  Soon he has made connections to a case from five years previously in which two children were brutally murdered.  But the more Pyke digs the stronger the opposition to his investigation and the less he seems able to trust his own men.  Too many people it seems want the conspiracy at the heart of the case to remain a secret and Pyke silenced.  But Pyke has never been one to shy away from making himself heard.

It took me a little while to get into The Detective Branch.  I think it was because there was a lot of work going on to move things into place, provide sufficient backstory, and evoke the time and setting.  The tale Andrew Pepper tells is an expansive and convoluted one, weaving together a whole plethora of different threads, crimes, factions and characters.  About a third of the way through everything started to slot into place, with the various alliances and rifts delineated and the general thrust of the puzzle clear.  As the tale neared its end the story picks up pace, but it also becomes more tricky to keep the various strands in order and questions start to arise.  The one that really baffled me was why Pyke was alive as the simplest solution for the conspirators would have been to bump him off, as they were doing with others.  Nonetheless, the tale is an entertaining one, with Pyke an interesting, non-conformist copper who administers justice in his own way whilst just about keeping on the right side of the law.  And it was a nice change to read a tale where the investigator has to rely on his wits, coercion and connections given the lack of forensics or modern technology.

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