This second book in the series takes place in 1850s London, just when England's government is collapsing because of the Crimean War. Bizarre, horrific murders are occurring among London's elite and a message is left at each crime scene that seems to threaten the life of Queen Victoria. It soon becomes clear that the perpetrator of the crimes is seeking revenge for something that happened to his mother, father, and two sisters many years before.
In an effort to catch the perpetrator and protect the Queen the crimes are investigated by two amateur detectives, Thomas De Quincey (the famous 'English opium eater') and his daughter Emily; and two Scotland Yard detectives, Becker and Ryan. Though the team is unconventional the members work well together, with knowledge and skills that are complementary.
David Morrell skillfully depicts the ambiance of London at the time, both the filth and squalor of the slums and the wealth and elegance of the ritzy neighborhoods. He also includes a good chunk of authentic London history (according to his own essay at the end of the book). The rich, aristocratic people of the time apparently believed that 'their class' never committed violent crimes and consistently blamed the poor, especially the unwelcome Irish immigrants.
During the course of their inquiries De Quincey and Emily - who have known lifelong hunger and poverty - get to purchase some new duds (albeit funereal wear) and have dinner with the Queen and Prince Albert. This is an amusing scene during which Emily, fearing she and her laudanum-addicted father would be thrown out sooner rather than later - tries to eat as quickly and as much as possible. For the most part, though, the story is gritty and violent, with the murderer pursuing his agenda and British nobleman (literally) fighting between themselves over a woman.
The book alternates points of view between the murderer and the third person narrator, and contains excerpts from Emily's journal. The reader, therefore, has a good idea of what's going on in everyone's mind. For the first two-thirds or so the book is suspenseful and compelling with plenty of action. The story then reaches a climax after which it takes too many chapters to wrap up. Moreover several of the story points that emerge in the final chapters are not believable, culminating in an unsatisfying ending. All in all I'd say this book works better for its history than its mystery.
Rating: 3 stars