London, 1859. Novice detective, Campbell Lawless, stumbles onto the trail of Berwick Skelton, an elusive revolutionary, threatening to bring the city to its knees with devilish acts of terror.
Thrust into a lethal, intoxicating world of sabotage and royal scandal – and aided by a gang of street urchins and a vivacious librarian – Lawless sets out to capture his underworld nemesis before he unleashes his final vengeance.
Lawless & The Devil of Euston Square is the first of a series of Victorian mysteries featuring London policeman, Campbell Lawless, on his rise through the ranks and initiation as a spy.
Murder. Vice. Pollution. Delays on the Tube. Some things never change…
Victorian London never goes out of style. Whether it’s straight historical fiction, historical crime fiction, steampunk, or historical fantasy, there are always novels slated to be published or recently published that are set in Victorian times and often for significant portion in London. Lawless & the Devil of Euston Square is one of the more recent examples of this phenomenon. It is set in a vibrant period in London’s history during the building of the Tube and around the passing of Prince Albert. Focussing on the early, career-making cases at the Yard of Scotsman Campbell Lawless, this is a fun historical crime novel.
Lawless is a sympathetic character. He isn’t a savant such as Holmes or Pinborough’s Dr Bond, but he’s hard-working and dogged in his pursuit of his investigations. He’s also young and idealistic, at times almost naively so. We follow him through his first three years with the Yard and we see him lose some of that youthful idealism and becoming not quite jaded, but a little rough around the edges. Most of the abrading of his shiny polish is done by his superior, Inspector Wardle. Lawless’ gruff governor and mentor was amusing and a mix of proud investigator and someone just serving out his time. He’s a staunch royalist and a fixer for the royal family, which allows Sutton to bring in some rather famous faces in for a cameo in the narrative. In addition to the royal cameos, Lawless also meets people like Karl Marx and Charles Dickens and several of the important political figures of the time. Not as famous, but perhaps far more endearing and captivating are The Euston Square Worms, particularly their leader Worm and his young associate The Professor. One of the numerous packs of street kids trying to survive by running errands and messages, they are the runners of choices for the Yard. I loved their scruffy tenacity and precocious maturity.
However, my favourite character in the book was Ruth Villiers and, no, that’s not because she’s a librarian, at least that’s not the main reason. No, I love Ruth because she’s a woman who breaks out of the role society has decreed for her and chooses to follow her own path; in this case, studying at university with the help of her aunt and working at the British Library to be able to eat. And she just about knocks Lawless over the head to make him notice she’s interested in him beyond professional reasons. Not exactly the demure and virtuous society lady of the times. This woman is given agency of her own and she chooses to take it. The villains of the story were various and of a varying degree of villainy. And that’s all I’m going to say about them so as to not give too much away about the story.
The plot of the book was super intricate and at time became a bit jumbled, in the sense that there are several cases running together and sometimes I had to go back and straighten out which discovery linked to which case. The structure of the book was both a help and a hindrance in this respect. A hindrance due to the parts, or periods as they are called, which leave quite some temporal gaps between them, but the help there is that the structure is overall the same for each period: a report from The Bugle, a local London newspaper followed by chapters from Lawless’ point of view, unless stated otherwise in the chapter headings. I found this structure and the forms of narration in each period: newspaper, Lawless’ accounts, Ruth’s accounts, quite pleasing, though the book takes place over a far longer period than I expected (over three years) and it would have been interesting to have the passage of time illustrated by Lawless also handling other cases than just Berwick Skelton’s crimes, the Skeleton Thefts, and archiving Wardle’s case files of the past twenty years. Still, the resolution and the ending of the book were very well-done and quite satisfying. They also made sure that there are no annoying loose ends in case there wouldn’t be a second Lawless book, which thankfully there will be.
In short, I enjoyed Lawless & the Devil of Euston Square quite a lot. Its characters were easy to connect to and the mystery at its centre captivating. I’m very much looking forward to spending more time with Lawless and Ruth in the future. Lawless & the Devil of Euston Square is a great example of what historical crime can be and Campbell Lawless is a wonderful new hero.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.