John Linwood Grant and I have been friends on Facebook for some time now. We share a love of books, of the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras, and a sense of the surreal and absurd, and he has interviewed me on the subject of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, and been kind enough to write things about another of my books. He, however, has lurchers and a beard, as the biography at the end of his latest book, The Assassin’s Coin, reveals – I have neither.
I was going to buy the ebook edition of this book, but since the only ebook edition appears to be in Kindle format, and I don’t own a Kindle, I went for the printed paperback, and I’m glad I did. It’s a nicely produced slim volume, with no glaring typos or other print-based infelicities, and it’s of a length to be read in one sitting. However, I took a couple of evenings to finish it – it was a book that made me put it down, think, and then take it up again.
One point at which Mr. Grant and I appear to differ is in our interest in the Whitechapel (“Ripper”) murders, though we share an interest in other aspects of the era. These are obviously a subject in which he has done his research, and The Assassin’s Coin is, on one level, a story of these murders. Indeed, Mr. Grant’s book recommends another book which provides another viewpoint of these crimes – an invitation that I am not inclined to accept at this time.
However, on a level other than the historical, the author has created one of the most interesting and disturbing fictional characters I have encountered in a long time – Mr. Edwin Dry – the Assassin of the title. Dry by name, and dry by nature, he takes pride in his skill at his trade – that of killing for money. He accepts commissions to remove those who have become an inconvenience to others. Money does not seem to be his primary obsession, though – the pleasure of a job well done appears to be his primary motivation, and the morality or otherwise of a killing is irrelevant.
When the Ripper appears on the scene, Dry senses a rival, though not, naturally, a professional rival, and uses his skills to track the other.
So far, we have the makings of a fairly standard late Victorian period thriller, albeit one with a somewhat more unusual protagonist than is common. However, the protagonist of this book is not Dry, but a young woman leading a double life.
To some, she is Catherine Weatherhead, a refugee from the hypocritical and violent Yorskshire family from she has fled, and with a duty to her cousins, who are living in poverty in London’s slums as the result of unpunished criminal actions that robbed them of their husband and provider. But to others, including the police, and some members of the minor nobility, she is Madame Katerina Rostov, blessed with the ability to pierce the Veil, and to bring comfort to those who have lost those who have gone before.
Catherine has adopted this precarious method of making a living, having discovered that she is cursed with the ability to visit others’ minds on occasion, and perceive things that are invisible to others, through the medium of the Æther (Mr. Grant and I share a common interest in the Æther). Her “gift” takes her into the mind of the Assassin, and they discover they may have more in common than either initially believes.
Incidentally, Thomas Carnacki makes an offstage appearance in the book,much to my pleasure.
I say no more for fear of spoiling the story for you. Now read on… (click here or on the book cover for the Amazon site).