Tuesday, 16 August 2016

By Gaslight

Author: Steven Price
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Type: Paperback
Pages: 731

Source: Publisher
Publisher: McClelland and Stewart (Random House Canada)
First Published: August 23, 2016 (Canada), October 4, 2016 (USA)
First Line: "He was the oldest son."

Book Description from GoodReadsA literary tour de force of a detective's ceaseless hunt for an elusive criminal.

London, 1885. Three years before the Whitechapel killings, London is a city of fog and darkness. A severed head is dredged from the Thames; ten miles away, a woman's body is discovered on Edgeware Road. The famed American detective William Pinkerton is summoned by Scotland Yard to investigate. The dead woman fits the description of a grifter Pinkerton had been pursuing for a long time--someone he believed would lead him to a man he has been hunting since his father's death.

Edward Shade is an industrialist without a past, a fabled con, a thief of other men's futures--he seems a ghost, a man of smoke. The obsessive hunt for him that began in the last days of the Civil War becomes Pinkerton's inheritance. What follows is an epic journey of secrets, deceit, and betrayals. Above all, it is the story of the most unlikely of bonds: between Pinkerton, the greatest detective of his age, and Shade, the one criminal he cannot outwit.

Steven Price's By Gaslight is a riveting, atmospheric portrait of a man on the brink. Moving from the diamond mines of South Africa to the fog-enshrouded streets of Victorian London, the novel is a journey into a cityscape of grief, trust, and its breaking, where what we share can bind us even against our better selves.


My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review:  By Gaslight is a historical fiction mystery that includes scenes from South Africa, Victorian London and the American Civil War.  We are introduced to its two protagonists - William Pinkerton, a well known American detective and son of the famous Allan Pinkerton, and Adam Foole, a high brow criminal with a gaggle of interesting cohorts whose past is quite sketchy.  Those aspects, as well as the beautifully eerie Victorian cover, made me eager to pick up this impressive book.  

I found Price's writing to be wonderfully vivid as he pulls his readers into the underbelly of Victorian London and the ruthlessness of the American Civil War.  His prose is quite compelling making it easy to see that he is originally a poet by trade.  Price starts off his lengthy tome very strong with the murder of a woman and the mysterious Edward Shade character who Pinkerton is attempting to capture.

Unfortunately, while I found the beginning of the book quite strong (as well as the ending) the bulk of the book had a very slow pace.  I'm a fast reader but it took me two weeks to read this book because I kept having to put it down when my interest waned.  There was a lot of detail in the side stories which took away from the two plots that I was interested in - the murder of the young woman and the identity of the elusive Mr Shade. I think the book could have been scaled back considerably with more focus on the suspense and less on the intricate details of the minor plots and the continuous jumping between eras.

Another reason for my lackluster feel towards this book, and the one I found most surprising, is the fact that Price used very limited punctuation and no quotation marks to indicate when a character is speaking.  An odd choice and a frustrating experience for the reader. 

I gave this book three stars because Price had a great premise, excels at describing scenes for his readers and has an interesting array of characters (Molly was the most interesting of all).  I was also a fan of the occasional snippets of humorous banter sprinkled throughout. Overall, this was a mighty undertaking of a book and while it wasn't a hit for me, others who enjoy lengthy Historical Fiction with a side of mystery should enjoy this large read.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Random House Canada for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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