The Mangle Street Murders

The Mangle Street MurdersThe Mangle Street Murders
by M.R.C. Kasasian
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: November 1, 2013
Pages: 336
Publisher: Head of Zeus

After her father dies, March Middleton has to move to London to live with her guardian, Sidney Grice, the country s most famous private detective. It is 1882 and London is at its murkiest yet most vibrant, wealthiest yet most poverty-stricken. No sooner does March arrive than a case presents itself: a young woman has been brutally murdered, and her husband is the only suspect. The victim s mother is convinced of her son-in-law s innocence, and March is so touched by her pleas she offers to cover Sidney s fee herself. The investigations lead the pair to the darkest alleys of the East End: every twist leads Sidney Grice to think his client is guilty; but March is convinced that he is innocent. Around them London reeks with the stench of poverty and gossip, the case threatens to boil over into civil unrest and Sidney Grice finds his reputation is not the only thing in mortal danger.

I bought this at a library sale because the cover caught my eye; I had no expectations, as I’d never heard of it before but it had a vaguely Holmesian feel to it.

I wasn’t wrong; there are both subtle and blatant nods to Doyle and Holmes throughout the story, but… I don’t know how to say this. The Mangle Street Murders reads like it was written by someone well-versed in the Holmes cannon but who resented the varnish put on the Victorian age and so set out to reimagine a Holmes worthy murder mystery in all its gory, gritty detail.

If that’s indeed what Kasasian set out to do, then boy howdy did he/she succeed. Sydney Grice, the famous personal detective is what Holmes might look like if he were actually a sociopath. Self admittedly greedy, vain, selfish and without a shred of courtesy or decency he’s almost a comic figure, until the reader is forced to witness his delight in public executions and other examples of his inhumanity. The author tries half-heartedly to hint at some underlying decency, but frankly fails; they are too few and too brief to have any impact. Add to that the grisly, graphic details in just about every scene of the book and it’s a wonder I kept reading past the first mortuary scene. There were times I honestly felt like the author was trying to punish the reader, beating them over the head with the reality of the 1880’s.

But I did keep reading; I really liked the MC, March Middleton. From the introduction it’s clear she’s Grice’s historian, in much the same way Watson was for Holmes, only she is (sorry Watson, I love you) much smarter than Watson and a far more invested participant. Of course she has a hidden pain – a tragedy in her past – that is shared piecemeal in the form of old journal entries. These are done perfectly: just often enough that they tug at your soul and keep you on the edge of your seat dreading what must be the inevitable. The inevitable, however, must be part of a multi book story arc because we don’t get to it here.

The plotting was competent. Of course Grice is secretive so neither Marsh nor the reader are every privy to crucial details until very nearly the end when he waves his superiority around in a nauseating way, but Marsh gets hers back, making for a more even read. The ultimate criminal was a person I pegged very early in the book, but there were so many layers and complexities that really all I’d done was identify the tip of the iceberg.

All said, the writing is excellent, the story and characters were compelling and I definitely won’t read the second one. I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I don’t want this level of factual realism in my books. I enjoyed the mystery but it was overshadowed by the author’s need for verisimilitude; if you don’t mind that level of grittiness, and you enjoy a good historical mystery, then this one is worth exploring. Otherwise stick with Holmes and Watson.

11 thoughts on “The Mangle Street Murders”

  1. Added to my TBR! Grice’s lack of charm oddly sold it for me – I’m curious as to what that looks like, and I don’t mind gritty-done-right (whatever that means, LOL)

    In other news, I wanted to comment on this on BL last night and couldn’t. Glad I ran across your post this morning to find your home here.

    1. It was an oddly compelling story for me, given how hard so many of the scenes were to read. I look forward to seeing what you think of it, when you get a chance to read it. 🙂

      I’m glad you found me! Especially since your blog address was one I didn’t have. I don’t know how many of my posts from BL will make it here – this is more of a vacation home for me, but the masochist in me is having fun playing around and trying to bend wordpress to my will. Having said that I am intending to attempt a database import from LibraryThing over here to mass import my older reviews. When I tried a test, I crashed my blog so if I suddenly disappear here that’s why. 😛

  2. I can’t just “like” these, since you’re on, but I’ve got you on my feed, so I’m reading these and will occasionally comment, just like on BL 🙂

    1. You’re on right? It’s weird how incompatible the two can be with each other. I also can’t click on your username to get to your blog (although you might have done that on purpose to maintain your privacy?).

      Anyway – I’m glad to see you and I look forward to those occasional comments. 🙂

  3. Nope, I’ve got my privacy settings just about wide open until I figure settings out a little more and can fine tune it.

    Also, I’m not sure that I’m actually following your reviews, as only allows me to follow your straight up website and all your reviews are under their various sub categories. It is almost like dotcom and dotorg are trying to be the biggest asses to each other.

    So if I end up following you over and over and over, it is because I’m trying different things out 🙂 Please bear with me.

    Oh, I just figured out WHY you couldn’t get to my website. I didn’t put it in in the form. Being logged into wp.COM has no bearing here on wp.ORG. So I’m putting it in for this comment to see if that works for you.

    1. Ok, I got to your site – but I can’t comment on it or follow it unless I have a account or am willing to sign in with my Facebook account (which I’m loathe to do b/c I don’t like linking accounts across the web). .Org and .com need to get over themselves and play nice.

      There’s a plug-in I can install on my site that will tie .org and .com closer together – I have to create an empty .com account on WP to make it work, but I think I’m going to have to go that route if I intend to keep this blog around. I hate not being able to comment on other sites. Boy is this sucker a time-suck, lol.

  4. Not sure how all these individual blogs are going to work for me, but I’m psyched to see you and your latest review! I signed up with BlogLovin and don’t really care for the feed format. Hopefully that will improve as I get used to it.

    I don’t mind gritty provided it’s not gratuitous and I’m in the mood for it. It sounds like Kasasian may have gone overboard with the ‘flawed characters are relatable and interesting’ concept creating Grice, but like Cupidity I’m kinda curious. And Marsh sounds interesting. Holmesian reimaginings seem to be perennially in fashion, so maybe I’ll see how this one stacks up to some of the others.

    1. I’m the same – I’m not loving everything all scattered everywhere and I am not a fan of the bloglovin’ feed; everything sort of just melds together…

      This book stuck with me; mostly in a good way, although some of the more horrific moments keep popping up in my memory at odd times. I probably would have ended up reading the second one except I’ve seen a review of it saying it’s much more graphic and violent than this one. If you can read an excerpt or the first couple of chapters at the bookstore/library definitely do it; it’s well written, just confronting. 🙂

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