Review: A Cold-Blooded Scoundrel by J S Cook

In London, with Jack the Ripper’s crimes still raw in the great city’s memory, a well-known male prostitute is brutally murdered, the head neatly severed, and the body set on fire. Detective Inspector Phillip Devlin of Scotland Yard, mid-thirties and secretly gay, is called to the murder scene by plainclothes constable Freddie Collins, and soon both Collins and Devlin are caught in a web of intrigue as more savage murders occur. A Cold-Blooded Scoundrel resonates with the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of 1880s London. Witty and engaging, it unfolds the story of a man who must brave not only the killer but also his own inner demons in order to end the violence that is harrowing the city.

Review by Erastes

Oh… I started this book with such brio. It started (and continued for some time) so well. A bloody murder in Victorian London, lots of gore, a bloody thumbprint and a mad-man on the loose. I was certain I was in for a great ride. Sadly I ended up rather disappointed, but the ride was – in the main – enjoyable.

Inpector Phillip Devlin appeals. He’s taciturn to the point of silence and keeps a lot bottled up. He’s got secrets, and that doesn’t only include being homosexual in an era where the Labouchere Amendment has homosexuals running scared. He’s a pioneer in his field, without being a Mary-Sue or a carbon copy Holmes clone, even though he knows a little more about forensics and handwriting and the like than your average plod.

The other main character, and what one hopes will turn out to be Devlin’s love-interest, is Collins, the earnest and not-so-bright devoted assistant. Again, he’s well drawn, and he convinces in his dedication and loyalty to Devlin but I got rather annoyed with the fact that we were constantly told how not-bright he was, he didn’t seem any less dim than the inspector.  Collins holds a large…torch for his inspector but in the days of the Blackmailer’s Charter – when no proof was needed to destroy a career – he has been quiet for a long time, until matters start to turn which drag secrets out into the daylight and both men are suddenly aware of the other in new ways.

As I said, from the promising start it boded well. Good characters, excellent murder, a thinking gay detective, burgeoning evolution of forensics, a couple of resurrection men…

That’s good, and it seemed promising when he spotted strange substances under fingernails and gunpowder up noses … but – well, it just doesn’t GO anywhere.

It just didn’t mesh. I was inspectin’ some detectin’ I suppose, seeing as how it started as such a classic detective novel but about half way through Devlin admits that all the clues he’s got lead nowhere and he’s baffled. And I was too – completely baffled!  I spent the next half of the book waiting impatiently for him to suddenly do a Poirot and say “Incroyable, I have been the imbecile! It’s all so simple!” but the eureka moment just didn’t happen and what started as Holmesian foresenic detection ended up in a sort of John Buchan style chase with everyone knowing what was going on apart from Devlin (and me). Very little is explained, very few loose ends were tied up and I was going “but.. but… what about the ambergris” after I’d shut the book in disappointment.

That being said, there’s some quite delicious writing in this, and all the characters are likeable and believable and very male in parts.  I think that I might just pick up some of Ms Cook’s other books to see what they are like, but having been raised on a diet of Poirot,Marple and Holmes – this didn’t really work for me.  I would be happier too, if the only 2 reviews on were not by the author herself!

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One Response

  1. […] is the sequel to A Cold Blooded Scoundrel which I reviewed last year.  I was a little trepidatious setting out with this book, because […]

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