I read this mystery novel with great enjoyment. It is set in 1840 London, England, the week before Christmas, and circles around the world of the theatre. A perfect choice for me: seasonal and Victorian at the same time.
This is Redfern's second mystery novel -- his first was a contemporary story, but in this one all of his interests in Victorian theatre and in crime come together to create a complex story with shades of Dickens about it.
There's been a murder of a young and fashionable theatre manager, discovered on Saturday the 19th of December. Inspector Owen Endersby is given six days, only until Christmas Eve, to find out who the culprit was. Fortunately, Inspector Endersby is very resourceful, and he and his wife are already theatre fans and have some connections in that world -- which comes in useful. Endersby, like many Dickensian characters, deals with all levels of society, from actresses and coster girls to the wealthy and important patrons of the theatre and of the newly formed London Police force. Even without modern forensic methods like fingerprinting or blood analysis, he relies on a scientific, evidence based investigation, rather than simply arresting the most convenient suspect to make his superiors happy.
I liked the character of Endersby and his wife; they gave a very solid centre to the book. But Redfern doesn't shy away from presenting the members of the large cast as complex characters who have secret failings, from drug use to blackmail and usury. It was an entertaining mystery with a puzzling but not baffling line of clues -- I did guess 'who did it' but only a few pages before it was revealed. The setting really shines; Victorian London in all its glory and squalor comes to life in many small details. And the aspects of theatre life were especially interesting for me - I will recommend this to my actor friends. There are some minor characters who were particularly memorable, mainly the young actresses (and one young man) who are trying to make a living by going on the stage. Their lives are bleak but they live for the moments they can participate in the illusion of the theatre.
Jon Redfern was born and raised in Alberta. He has been a free-lance journalist for both the Toronto Star and The Globe & Mail, a story editor for the CBC and a children’s playwright. Jon’s first novel, The Boy Must Die, won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel in Canada for 2002. Since then, Jon has been researching and writing, teaching English as a professor at Centennial College in Toronto, serving for two years as the active Vice President, Toronto Chapter, of the Crime Writers of Canada, and traveling to Siena, Havana, and Madrid to attend conferences and continue research on up-coming writing projects. Jon lives in Toronto and in Waterton Lakes, Alberta.