Its 1853 and something nasty is in the air in Crawditch, London. A series of grisly murders coincides with the arrival of Dr Marvello’s Traveling Circus, which is the business run own by Cornelius Quaint, ringmaster and conjuror extraordinaire. Suspicious immediately falls upon the circus performers, and their strongman Prometheus finds himself wrongly incarcerated for the crimes. Quaint, with the help of a number of his performers and the guidance of his good friend Madame Destine sets out to clear Prometheus’s name – but before long he realises that the murders are just the tip of the iceberg concerning some very dodgy dealings occurring in the criminal fraternity. And as the mystery unfolds, it becomes clear that the events are related to Cornelius’s own history. Will he be able to prove his friend’s innocence…and will he manage to escape with his own life?
This is a rip-roaring adventure story, populated with an eccentric cast of characters. Cornelius is a great main character, who has plenty of cunning, an acute sense of humour and a quick intelligence – all of which he needs to employ to navigate his way through several deadly situations.
More of an adventure story than a mystery, the tale twists and turns, so that the reader is often caught unaware by the events that take place. The main characters are well drawn, so that I did feel that I got to know them. Some of the villains are a little cartoony, but that’s fine and all adds to the atmosphere of fun and excitement. My favourite character was probably Cornelius’s loyal valet, Butter, and I would have liked to have learned more about him. I also particularly liked one of the police officers investigating the murders – Horace Berry, who was perhaps the most conventional character in the whole story.
This is the first story in a series (of three books, apparently), and I hope that the further installments of Quaint’s life and adventures are as much fun to read as this one. It’s not completely accurate on some historical details (occasionally using descriptive words and terms that were not around at the time that the book is set), but that hardly matters – after all, this is a romp, not a study of the period. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I don’t think the reader is expected to do so either.
Overall, I would certainly recommend this book – it left me with a smile on my face!