Book Review: The Graves of Whitechapel by Claire Evans.
Publication Date: 25th June
Page Length: 300 Pages
Genre: Historical Thrillers
In the gripping new novel by the author of The Fourteenth Letter, a lawyer in Victorian London must find a man he got off a murder charge - and who seems to have killed again . . .
Victorian London, 1882. Five years ago, crusading lawyer Cage Lackmann successfully defended Moses Pickering against a charge of murder. Now, a body is found bearing all the disturbing hallmarks of that victim - and Pickering is missing. Did Cage free a brutal murderer?
Cage's reputation is in tatters, and worse, he is implicated in this new murder by the bitter detective who led the first failed case. Left with no other alternative, Cage must find Pickering to prove his innocence.
His increasingly desperate search takes him back to the past, to a woman he never thought to see again, and down into a warren of lies and betrayals concealed beneath Holland Park mansions and the mean streets of Whitechapel - where a murderer, heartbreak and revenge lie in wait.
“The power of words: scratched and feeble on their own, yet when marshalled together into an army they could break hearts and bones, tear down citadels…”
As a reputable lawyer, renowned for his almost theatrical, one might even say scripted, flare in the courtroom, as well as being a published poet, Cage Lackmann knew all about the power of words. He could just as easily convince a judge of a man’s innocence as he could pen a heartrending poem about lost love. However, words, as Cage knew only too well, also had the power to destroy. An innocent man can be found guilty of a hideous crime just as easily as a guilty man can be found innocent—it all depends on how good one’s lawyer is. And Cage was very good at his job. Five years ago, Cage had successfully defended Moses Pickering, who had been accused of murder. In Cage’s opinion, Moses lacked the arrogance to take a man’s life. And yet, there had been another victim, another murder in the same manner as the first. All the evidence suggests that the same sick individual committed both murders, and once again, all eyes turn to Pickering. Cage’s reputation is now on the line, along with his integrity, and with Pickering nowhere to be found, the authorities are drawing their own conclusions, and Cage has to ask himself if he had made a monumental mistake five years ago… From The Old Bailey’s bustling courtroom to a cold and lonely cell in the notorious Newgate Prison, The Graves of Whitechapel by Claire Evans is a Victorian Crime Thriller triumph. As is so often the case in Historical Crime Thrillers, there are red herrings aplenty that throw the reader off the right trail. Do we, the lucky readers, take the bait that Evans tangles in front of our faces so enticingly? Dare we make our own assumptions? Or do we wait and watch as the events unfold? The one question that plagued me throughout this novel was that if the murderer is not Pickering, then who is? Evans has given her readers ample opportunity to try to guess who the murderer is. I must admit, I did not figure out who the murderer was before it was revealed, which was remarkably refreshing and demonstrates the exceptional talent that Evans has for creating an enthralling, fast-paced narrative that is not only filled with numerous plot twists, but also with seemingly insignificant but clever details that ultimately concealed the killer in one of the best ways possible—at all times the murderer is in plain sight. The crime-infested world in which Evans has placed her story is a befitting backdrop for her novel. The corrupt nature of the legal system is explored in explicit detail, as is the seedy, poverty-driven description of the inhabitants of Whitechapel. The hours that Evans has committed to researching this fascinating era shines through in every sentence. She has brought Whitechapel, with all its darkness and destitution, back to glorious life. I could almost inhale the history. I fancied I could feel the bite of a cold London morning upon my face, feel the fear of finding your cloak pocket devoid of the coins you so desperately need, as well as the heart-wrenching longing for someone you can never have. I thought the historical detailing of this novel was breathtakingly portrayed. Throughout this book, the running theme is the corruption that seemingly afflicted the legal system during this period in history. And this corruption is demonstrated most admirably by the protagonist’s portrayal. Cage is beholding to a crime boss, Obediah Pincott, a position no lawyer would ever wish to find themselves in. Cage was given the opportunity to study law because Pincott paid for him to do so, but his education came with conditions. Cage is trapped, his life controlled by a man who cares about the outcome, not the process of reaching it. I thought the depiction of Pincott was fabulous. Here is a villain in the truest sense. He is deplorable in his treatment of Cage and, like most victims, Cage cannot break away from him for Pincott holds the purse strings. Pincott wanted a lawyer who could help keep the men who surround him out of prison, and that job falls to Cage. Cage is allowed to take on other clients as long as they are innocent, Pickering being one such client. With little to no money, a task of which he is not well versed in and his reputation hanging on the line, Cage must prove Pickering’s innocence once again, whether that means establishing the identity of the real killer or building a case against someone else to keep Pickering’s record clean. I thought the power and influence that Pincott held over Cage was cleverly depicted, and it shone a light on the corruption of the legal system during this era. I thought Cage was a fascinating protagonist. He is a brave, although not always sober, hero. He has a taste for the finest claret, and keeps company with whores, in particular a young woman called Agnes, and it was this relationship that I found so endlessly fascinating. Due to unforeseen circumstances and through her acquaintance with Cage, Agnes finds herself involuntarily involved in the investigation, often as Cage’s alibi and helping provide Cage with information that may be crucial in the success or failure of his attempt to uncover the truth. I thought Evans’ depiction of Agnes was fabulous. I had mixed feelings about detective Jack Cross. His blindness to other possibilities and his continuous harassment of Cage made this character exceedingly unlikeable. However, he does have to find the killer and the only suspect, as far as he is concerned, is Pickering. His determination, his pig-headedness, hinders the investigation rather than enhances it. And much like one finds in the works of Arthur Conan Doyle’s, Sherlock Holmes, it is not Scotland Yard that will ultimately uncover the villain. However, unlike in Sherlock Holmes, Cross is no blundering fool. The Graves of Whitechapel by Claire Evans is worthy of the highest acclaim. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. This is a story, not only about murder, money and mystery. It is also one about love and justice. This is a novel that will keep you guessing to the very last chapter. I Highly Recommend. Review by Mary Anne Yarde. The Coffee Pot Book Club.
Where to buy
Amazon UK • Amazon US • Waterstones •
Claire Evans divides her time between writing and her job as Chief Operating Officer at Two Brothers Pictures Ltd, the television production company behind Fleabag, Liar and Baptiste.
She lives in London with her partner.