Who knew that in 2014, with the book world awash in knit-and-craft cozies, Scandinavian noir and genre detectives competing with hot new sleuths of every description, there’d be room for a couple of fresh, intriguing characters, or a series with both dark local realism and laugh-out-loud moments? It’s all here, in M.R.C. Kasasian’s immensely pleasurable debut mystery, The Mangle Street Murders. Set in London of 1882, the first in a new series introduces 21-year-old March Middleton and her guardian, the celebrated private detective Sidney Grice. They find themselves sharing Grice’s London townhouse after March’s father dies and she has need of a new home.
Move over, Holmes and Watson. Kasasian's debut mystery introduces our favorite new detective duo.
They seem ready to turn the science of detecting on its ear. March is outspoken and smart, and in a brief introduction she writes for the book, she appears to be a kind of chronicler of Grice’s life and escapades. But when we meet her in chapter one, we sense that she’ll be much more than that, as she takes an active role in her new life from the get-go, listening in on cases, accompanying Grice and making her opinions known—at a time when women were properly seen but not heard. There’s a mysterious past love that haunts her days and provides a hint for future intrigues.
As for Grice, he’s one for the ages, with his short stature and unpredictable glass eye. Irascible, vain to a fault, lacking social skills to the nth degree (and terrified of umbrellas to boot), he’s made a name for himself in the great city and is called upon to solve some of the day’s knottiest crimes. After March arrives on the scene, they are soon investigating the brutal murder of a young woman whose husband is the major suspect. Grice thinks he’s guilty, while March wants to prove his innocence. Guardian and ward set out to seek a killer on London’s streets and in its murky canals, visiting places where ladies never travel, in back alleys, mortuaries and the unsavory East End, all the while tossing back banter and clues in this marvelous get-under-your-skin story.
Kasasian describes Victorian London in all its vibrancy—never sparing us the dirt and details of its dingy, teeming streets—but couples this grit with an underlying sense of fun and outlandish humor. This book should hit the “favorites” list of readers who seek new criminal ground and tantalizing characters to savor.