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Publisher: Century (Random House) 
Release Date: August 2003 
ISBN: 0712675442 
Format Reviewed: Trade Paperback
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Genre: Historical Crime [1852, London] 
Reviewed: 2003
Reviewer: Rachel A Hyde 
Reviewer Notes:  

The Fiend In Human
By John MacLachlan Gray 

     John MacLachlan Gray has swallowed a copy of Henry Mayhew's London Labor & The London Poor for breakfast, or invested in a time machine and gone back in time to London of 1852. The miasma of poverty and despair in this tale of murder and journalism is almost tangible, and pervades every page like a yellow London fog. Reporter Edmund Whitty has coined the name "Chokee Bill" for a murderer who strangles women with a scarf and mutilates them. One William Ryan has been apprehended for the crimes and is awaiting execution - but he insists that he is innocent. Also interested in his case is Henry Owler, a balladeer who wishes to produce a pamphlet giving a rhyming account of Ryan's confession. For this end he enlists Edmund's help and the two become unlikely partners, combing the worst streets of London to find the true killer before he can claim another victim…

     It is the descriptions that linger in the mind after the book has been finished, and these tend to swamp the plot at times and almost make it take a back seat. It isn't a difficult mystery to guess although there are various twists that render it more intriguing. Gray's insights into mid-Victorian society give the story its ring of authenticity, and he has truly managed to get under the skin of both the hellish gin-comforted existence of the very poor to the hypocritical and sybaritic lives of the wealthy clubmen and slum landlords. At times it teeters on the edge of literariness, and then wavers into the realm of genre fiction but remains the sort of book that almost anybody might read, of either sex and whether they were normally readers of historical crime fiction or not. It is a multi-layered tale then, of man's inhumanity to man and of a realm stranger to the well-off than Africa, a behind-the-scenes peek into the underbelly of Victorian society and more basically a whodunit. Something for everybody perhaps, although the welter of description that is to be found on every page makes it a book to read slowly, and perhaps not the choice for someone who might fancy fast-paced crime fiction.