Monday, March 28, 2016

Murder, Politics and Pornography in Victorian London

THE INFIDEL STAIN (Avery and Blake #2)
M. J. Carter
George P. Putnam's Sons (Penguin Group)
March 29, 2016

The Infidel Stain opens in London about three years after the events in India that brought William Avery and Jeremiah Blake together in The Strangler Vine. Avery has distinguished himself in the Afghan Wars and sold his commission, returning to England and purchasing a small estate. It seems that even though his reason for returning is ostensibly his wife's pregnancy the marriage itself is unhappy. A summons to London from the enigmatic Blake is most welcome; Avery is restless and bored. He discovers Blake looking disheveled and unwell, working as a private agent for British Intelligence. Two grisly murders have occurred in the notorious slums of London; both men were printers, mutilated and laid out across their presses. The police seem to have no interest in the cases and Blake has been commissioned to investigate. His employer is Lord Allington, a well-known evangelical Christian who is interested in the plight of England's poor. The investigation plunges the two men into a dangerous world of political unrest, murder, blackmail, pornography, hypocrisy and madness.

I was largely unaware of the Chartist movement in England. The Chartists were a political movement which, to the modern mind, had very reasonable demands. They wanted one man, one vote, no property requirement to vote and redrawing of parliamentary districts. The poor in England were suffering tremendous burdens brought on by the Industrial Revolution and laws keeping wages artificially low. However, fifty years after the French Revolution, the reigning establishment saw the Chartists as a danger to the social order. The Chartists eventually failed even after delivering petitions signed by millions to the government. There were Chartists in favor of armed uprisings but more peaceful elements of the movement prevailed. Ironically, the movement seemed to fail in the end because they were so peaceful that the government felt that they could be ignored.

M.J. Carter paints a vivid, almost Dickensian picture of the horrible conditions in the slums of London. There was literally no escape for millions who had no way to improve their lives and a justice system focused on severe, moralistic punishments for the smallest transgressions. I can't help drawing parallels between the Victorian Age and our own "drug wars" as well as the slow dismantling of social programs meant to uplift people. William Avery is still a priggish young man but has his eyes opened wider in the slums of London. The Infidel Stain lacks the "ripping yarn" action that so much characterized The Strangler Vine. It may be that I am so much more familiar with the landscape of the London slums that I was with colonial India. The book is meticulously researched and features real people of the age as well as characters inspired by real historical figures. It is intensely readable historical fiction and I highly recommend it.

Thanks to and Penguin Group for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

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