The American Agent Investigates Murder in the Dark Byways of London
By Robert Lee Hall
Pine Street Books (University of Pennsylvania Press) - 2001
ISBN: 0812217896 - Paperback
Mystery / Historical - 1757, London

Reviewed by: Rachel A Hyde, MyShelf.Com
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If you are a fan of writers of 18th century crime novels such as Deryn Lake, Bruce Alexander and Hannah March and are wondering what to read next, then Pine Street Books' reprinting of Robert Lee Hall's Benjamin Franklin series will be a reason for rejoicing. First published back in 1988, they are narrated by the young Nicholas Handy, the wretched orphan skivvy to Inch, Printer. When he comes down one morning to find his kindly master slain and at the mercy of the termagant Mrs. Inch and bullying apprentice Buck Duffin, his worst nightmare seems to have come true (especially as they instantly suspect him of the murder) but rescue is at hand in the shape of the mysterious American, Benjamin Franklin, friend to Mr Inch in his youth. It is then up to the pair of them to investigate the crime and discover what else goes on at the printers, their connection with a certain house of ill repute and many other things besides, including the reason for the secrecy about Nicholas' parents.

This delightful first novel in the series has something of a Dickensian charm about it and the character of Benjamin Franklin fairly leaps off the page. I've read more intricate plots and found some of this one a little on the thin side for a truly good mystery, but this is one of those easy-to-read books that had me asking for more (yes, there is an Oliver Twist flavor about it all). Sir John Fielding makes an appearance of course, and Hall's delineation of the grim and gritty streets of London and the colourful characters that inhabit them makes for a highly enjoyable read. I do hope that the rest of the series is also reprinted.

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