Book Reviews from Olga Nuñez Miret Link

Hi all:

I bring you the third book in a series of Victorian mysteries I’ve been following for a while.

The Body In The Trees: A Bowman Of The Yard Investigation by Richard James

The Body In The Trees: A Bowman Of The Yard Investigation by Richard James

Bowman of the Yard: Book Three

‘Wonderfully atmospheric, full of the thrills of Victorian London.’ Adam Croft.

Summer, 1892.

Accompanied by the trusted Sergeant Graves, Detective Inspector George Bowman finds himself in Larton, a sleepy village on the River Thames. A series of supposed suicides has opened up old wounds between the locals and a gypsy camp in the woods.

The detectives are viewed with suspicion as the villagers close ranks against their investigation, even more so when Bowman succumbs to visions of his dead wife. His sanity in the balance, it’s not long before he places Graves himself in danger, risking the wrath of the Commissioner of Scotland Yard.

Is Bowman in full possession of his wits?

As village life continues and a link between the suicides is discovered, Bowman finds himself ensnared in the machinations of a secret society, with a figure at its head who will stop at nothing to escape justice.

Soon, the inspector is embroiled in a case that began on the dusty plains of Africa, and ends at the gates of a lunatic asylum.

Richard James is an actor, playwright and author with many credits to his name. The Bowman Of The Yard series marks his first as an author. Other books in the acclaimed series include Devil in the Dock and The Head in the Ice.

‘A genuinely impressive debut.’ Andrew Cartmel, The Vinyl Detective.

‘Crime fiction with wit and twists.’ Richard Foreman, Raffles: The Complete Innings.

Picture of author Richard James
Author Richard James

About the author:

I’ve been telling stories all my life. As an actor, I’ve spent a career telling other people’s, from William Shakespeare to Charles Dickens. As I write, I get to create my own!

I have written almost thirty plays which are produced the world over; from USA to New Zealand and just about everywhere in between. They’re mostly comedies and frequently win awards in competitions and festivals.

In 2014 I wrote a book, Space Precinct Unmasked, detailing my experiences working as an actor on Gerry Anderson’s last live action sci-fi series.

So, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I wrote a novel. I decided it had to be set in a world I would want to spend time in and feature characters I would want to be with. And most importantly, it would have to feature a grisly murder or two! I love the Victorian era. It seems such a rich period of history, populated by some hugely colourful characters, so that’s where I’ve started my novel-writing career. The Head In The Ice is the first in the Bowman Of The Yard series and follows the investigation of Inspector George Bowman of Scotland Yard into the discovery of – well, a head in the ice of the River Thames. Over the course of the book, however, and the series in general, we see he has demons of his own to contend with.

There will be four books in the Bowman Of The Yard series in all (at least, to begin with…), together with some short stories from Bowman’s Casebook. These will fill in the gaps between the novels, giving the reader the chance to follow Bowman’s professional progress and personal battles (he’s a troubled man, as you’ll see) over twelve months of his life. 1892 promises to be quite a year for Inspector Bowman, and I’m sure he would love to have your company!

I really hope you like the books. If you do, you can tweet me your thoughts at @RichardNJames. I hope to hear from you!

My review

I received an early ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

This is the third novel in the series of A Bowman in the Yard Investigation that I read (you can check my review for book 1 here and for book 2 here) and I’ve become a keen follower of the series, which combines interesting characters and plot with great attention to detail and a compelling style of writing that transport readers right into the heart of Victorian England. While the previous novels were set in London (and we learned much about the changes taking place in the city at the time and the criminal underworld), this novel takes inspector Bowman, Graves, and later Hicks, from Scotland Yard, to the countryside, where they are confronted with a village that is fiercely suspicious of outsiders, and where anybody straying from the established social order is frowned upon. The author proves as adept at depicting this society (with its rigid norms of behaviour, its prejudices and xenophobia, its narrow-mindedness and its cruelty) as he had been at showing us what the big metropolis was like. This is no idyllic English village, but a place full of secrets, envies, one-upmanship, spite, and lack of empathy. It might look pretty from the outside, but as a rotten piece of fruit, its insides are ugly.

Bowman, who had been struggling with his grief and his mental health difficulties from the first book, is quickly becoming unravelled, and that is partly why he is sent away from London to a place where his superiors think he is less likely to cause any damage or come to any serious harm. It is also a way of testing him and seeing how he manages, under the supervision of Graves. As the description explains, things start going wrong quite quickly and Bowman’s mental state puts everybody at risk.

The P.O.V. is the same as in the rest of the series, omniscient, mostly focused on Bowman, but there are parts of the story where we share in the point of view of one of his men, and even of some of the villagers and others involved. I know some readers are not fond of this particular point of view, and although I think it works particularly well in this setting (as the main character becomes an increasingly unreliable narrator) prospective readers might want to check a sample of the writing beforehand.  There are hints and references to events in previous novels in the series, but I think a reader new to the series would be able to enjoy it as well, and I’m convinced he’d be sufficiently intrigued with the events here to want to catch up with the rest of the story.

I particularly liked the depiction of village life, and the social commentary resulting from it (gypsies are suspected of all crimes, there are rigid social norms and people cannot try to move across the divide without causing resentment). I also enjoyed the background of the mystery (but I won’t say anything else to avoid spoilers). There are plenty of red herrings, twists and turns, and cul-de-sacs; although at a personal level I am more interested in Victorian London and its criminal world. I was also intrigued by the baddie, who in some ways seems to understand Bowman perfectly (better than he understands himself, perhaps because they have things in common, although each one of them have dealt with their personal situation in a completely different way), and enjoyed seeing more of Graves and even Hicks (who can be quite effective when he gets going).

What got me hooked into the story most of all was Bowman and his descend into his personal hell. He tries to find some remedy and some help for his condition, but it is not easy, and in his path to self-destruction he gathers a momentum he is unable to control. The ending came as no surprise (I refer to what happens to Bowman, rather than the actual case, although I also guessed the guilty parties, but then I have a suspicious mind. I wouldn’t say it’s easy to guess), and I wonder what will come next.

This is another great novel, and one that explores a different, but not kinder, aspect of life in the Victorian era. There is domestic violence, exploitation, murders, secrets, cowardice, and the full catalogue of human sins. We also get an opportunity to witness the unequal fight of a good man against his grief and his PTSD. The violence and the crimes and not particularly explicit in this book, but this is not a gentle cozy mystery, and readers should be prepared for their emotions to be put to the test. A great combination of historical mystery, social commentary, and psychological study. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the author for his novel, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep safe and keep smiling. Oh, and don’t worry if you check my previous reviews and see different covers now. The series has been given a once over and all the books have new covers.