THE STRINGS OF MURDER
By Oscar de Muriel
Publisher: Pegasus Crime (2016; c2015)
Kindle edition: $9.99
Kindle edition: $9.99
A Frey & McGray mystery (Book #1)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
1883: Dundee, Scotland. The family doctor is called to the McGray home, where he discovers a horrific scene. Mr. and Mrs. McGray are dead, and their son Adolphus is wounded and in deep shock. Even more disturbing, the person who butchered them is their young daughter Amy. She claims that the Devil had possessed her. Amy is sent to an asylum. Adolphus internalizes his grief, later joining the police force. He gains a reputation as a gruff, surly copper, whose technique of crime solving often involves brute force.
1888: London. Inspector Ian Frey is having a fine year. He’s got a good job as a Scotland Yard inspector, and he’s engaged to a lovely woman from a wealthy family. Everything changes when his mentor and friend, Commissioner Sir Charles Warren, reveals that he is being forced out of office by his nemesis, Assistant Commissioner James Munro. His ousting has been sanctioned by the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury. He tells Ian that heads will roll under the new commissioner. In one terrible day, Ian’s life takes a downward turn. He loses his job, his fiancée dumps him for another man, and he has to attend a dinner with his family, where his loathsome brother spills the beans about the firing. His father, as always, is disappointed in Ian. His step-mother offers insincere sympathy. Only his youngest brother Elgie, a violin prodigy, is kind to him.
To add insult to injury, he is accosted on his way home. To his great surprise, it’s the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury. Salisbury offers him a way to keep his job. Two recent murders bore the mark of Jack the Ripper, or a skillful imitator. One is a woman in Whitechapel. The other is an elderly musician in Edinburgh. Salisbury believes that Ian, who had successfully apprehended a serial poisoner, has skills that may help to find this new killer. Reluctantly, Ian agrees. After all, what more has he got to lose? He travels to Edinburgh, where he is partnered with Inspector Adolphus “Nine-Nails” McGray, a seasoned lawman who knows a great deal about horrific murders first-hand.
The case of the brutally slain violinist is puzzling. The man was alone, the doors were locked, and there seemed no way anyone could have gotten inside. To make things more complicated, there were black magic symbols painted on the floor. The maid implicated two suspects; when questioned, they talked of a cursed violin, said to have been played by the Devil himself. Inspector Frey is a level-headed man of reason, but as the investigation goes on, he begins to question his sense of reality.
This is Oscar de Muriel’s debut novel. If his future works are on a level with this one, he has a bright future. The two mismatched investigators are well-drawn and totally believable. Their clashes over proper procedures bring some welcome humor to this macabre tale, and their gradual acceptance of each other flows organically and truthfully. The gloomy atmosphere in both London and Edinburgh add to the flavor of this historically rich Gothic mystery. Highly recommended.