The story follows the Victorian gentleman Arthur Endswell who has fallen upon hard times due to his threadbare family inheritance. In order to keep up appearances and frequent the upper class social circles, he turns to the most lucrative job available: corpse-robbing for a surgeon keen to practice dissection. Through this morbid occupation, Arthur hopes to gain the hand of his beloved—who is incidentally due to inherit a large dowry. But Arthur’s carefully arranged plans are thrown into disarray when bodies start turning up filled with poison, and a murderer is on the loose….
I have to admit, I was very hesitant when I started reading Black Wreath as I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But despite his unwholesome job and duplicitous nature, Arthur is a very charming narrator and I was soon drawn into his tale.
Arthur stands out for being an unusual protagonist. He’s not a hero, nor is he a villain—while he does steal bodies, he nonetheless abides by a certain honour, and his money-driven behaviour seems more born by necessity rather than greed. He also has a certain wit and intelligence in his observations (although, perhaps he credits himself with slightly too much intelligence, often to the amusement of the reader).
The supporting cast are equally as well-developed and distinct. Fanny, who passes herself as a medium capable of taking photographs of the dead, is stubborn, independent, and has sharp business sense—perhaps she is the most intelligent character in the story. Then there’s Arthur’s beloved Amelia, wan and pale at first but with surprising depths. Not to mention Amelia’s dreaded aunt, the kind of small-minded woman who always has a complaint ready.
On top of that, M. Jones has put considerable thought into the setting: the Victorian London of Black Wreath is as colourful as it is filthy, and – living in London myself – I had the sense that the author knew my city very well, could actually see the traces of the London I know beneath the grime and pollution. Even the writing contributed to the sense of setting—the turns of phrase M. Jones uses capture the essence of the time period.
All these elements combine into an intriguing tale of murder, money-grubbing, and deceit, where nothing is as it seems and the world is full of shades of grey. At the end of the day, this is very much a story about people, and the choices they make in order to improve their lot in the world.
In sum, recommended for lovers of history and murder-mysteries. The cast and setting are engaging, and the plot is delightfully unexpected. This is one whodunit you might not be able to figure out.
Black Wreath has been published as an ebook, and I highly recommend picking up a copy — it’ll be worth every penny.
Alternatively, you can read it for free online — the layout is simple, uncluttered, and easy on the eye, although the lack of ‘previous’ and ‘next’ links between chapters may annoy some.
This book is one of my 100+ Reading Challenge!