Thomas exercises a firm hold on the physical and social particulars of late-Victorian London life, and his feel for the doughty spirit of Victorian-style adventure fiction is equally strong. Yet, overall, this début historical thriller stumbles into the pitfalls of its sub-genre as often it rises to the peaks. Set in 1884, when an influx of Jewish immigrants to Whitechapel and Aldgate was roiling the precarious peace of the great metropolis, the novel follows “private enquiry agent” Cyrus Barker as he searches for the killer of a young teacher of the Torah. The victim had a Jesus-like visage—and, by all reports, a Christ-like sense of his own destiny. So, after police find his body hung atop a telegraph pole, its limbs arranged to suggest crucifixion, the suspicion arises that a religious motive lay behind the murder. Jewish community leaders hire Barker both to solve the crime and to quash an apparent pogrom in the making, and his chief method of inquiry is to mount a rogues’ tour of London’s leading anti-Semites. That investigation has a going-through-the-motions quality, however, and the whodunit aspect of the tale comes across as wholly peripheral to its “historical” and “thriller” aspects: As in many recent books of its kind, period trappings loom closer to the foreground here than they should, while the narrative pace veers unduly close to the frenetic tempo of modern action movies. (Thomas might have done well to borrow a little something from the moody, slow-building potboilers of the Victorian era.) Aiding Barker in his work, and also narrating this chronicle, is his new assistant, Thomas Llewelyn. A wide-eyed Watson with a tragic back-story, Llewelyn conforms to his literary type, and likewise the “danger” in which he and Barker are “involved” conforms to a pattern that other writers have explored previously.
WILL THOMAS. Some Danger Involved (2004).