As if by Magic, Dolores Gordon-Smith, Soho Constable, $25.00.
Before you skip ahead, after seeing this is an historical novel in hardcover by a virtually unknown author, take into account that Gordon-Smith was recommended to me by no less than Louise Penny. While I had to work my way through a gigantic reading pile before getting to Gordon-Smith's book, I was chastened when I finally picked it up, as it was several months after Louise had recommended it, and after I started I wanted to slap my forehead in disgust at myself. This is the long way of saying that this is a terrific book.
This novel may have one of the better opening sequences that I've read almost ever. It's 1922 London, and a starving, ill man named George Lassiter is lurching around Mayfair when he sees a warm looking, cozy kitchen that seems to call to him for some reason. When he sees all the servants leaving, he looks under the mat, finds a key, and lets himself in, to get warm by the fire, eat some sandwiches, and where he eventually falls asleep. When he wakes up in the darkened kitchen he thinks he sees a murder, but when he runs into the street, virtually into the arms of a policeman to report what he's seen, the body is gone. Shortly after, the seriously ill George collapses, and from there Gordon-Smith's storytelling wizardry takes hold and the book is off and running. You'll be seriously hooked at this point.
Gordon-Smith's series character is one Jack Haldean, a crime writer who, it turns out, served in the war with George Lassiter. Jack takes George in as he has nowhere to go, and from there the story is almost Dickensian in terms of coincidence, though as you're reading it it probably won't strike you as a bit far fetched. You'll be too caught up in the story. I imagine that someone who possesses as strong a narrative gift as Gordon-Smith obviously does has so much fun thinking up the details of her story, it's hard to leave juicy plot points out, and indeed, they do nothing but enhance the novel.
I don't want to give too much more away of this ingeniously constructed novel other that it say it involves early aviation, a lost fortune, a dodgy club, and an apparent serial killer that has the police completely stumped. Throw in a little romance and the ebb and flow of two old friends sharing a small flat and the resulting book is a wonder. It's structured in a very traditional way, and the historical detail provides just enough background, but not too much—it feels natural. Any fan of either the traditional British mystery or of the historical mystery should be in heaven.
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