Monday, September 4, 2017
Book Review: 'The Strings of Murder' by Oscar de Muriel
"The Strings of Murder," Oscar de Muriel's debut novel, is set in Edinburgh in 1888. After his dismissal from Scotland Yard, Inspector Ian Frey is given a second chance to prove his mettle. His superiors transfer him to Scotland, where he will help Inspector Adolphus McGray (nicknamed "Nine Nails") investigate a grisly locked-room murder. The deceased, Guilleum Fontaine, was a virtuoso violinist and respected teacher. An unidentified perpetrator slashed Fontaine's throat and eviscerated him in a manner reminiscent of Jack the Ripper's butchery. More deaths follow, and this unlikely pair of detectives are pressured to stop the killer before the newspapers create a panic among the citizenry. As the prime minister himself notes, "If this case goes to the press, those fiendish journalists will feast on our flesh."
Thirty-one year old Ian is an appealing character who is unlucky in love, has incurred his father's wrath, and is in professional limbo. He is repelled by Edinburgh's vile weather, polluted air, and dirty streets, and is offended by McGray's garbled and profane language, slovenly appearance (Adophus dresses "like the jester of Mary Queen of Scots"), and irrational belief in the supernatural. De Muriel, who has a delightfully wicked sense of humor, places his hero in one impossible situation after another. The poor lad's suits become filthy and torn; almost everyone he meets chastises him (McGray repeatedly impugns his manhood); and, much to his woe, Ian is forced to lodge with McGray, who has a prickly disposition and vile personal habits.
"The Strings of Murder" will delight fans of lively Victorian mysteries with a Gothic twist. This fast-paced story is wonderfully atmospheric and descriptive—the author transports us to the streets (and sewers) of Scotland's capital—and the plot has intriguing elements that touch on classical music, science, medicine, madness, and even Satanism. Readers will adore the testy exchanges between Frey and McGray, who bicker like cranky schoolchildren. The sole quibble is that de Muriel withholds key facts that would have allowed us to play amateur sleuth. Still, there is much to admire in this first installment of what promises to be a splendid series.
Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.