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Bucket’s List
Charley Field Mystery – Book I
Gary Blackwood

Severn House
31 August 2017/ ISBN 9780727887382

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde

London 1853: Charley Field is newly retired from the police and has set himself up as a private enquiry agent. Business is slow until Charles Dickens himself suggests that as Field was the model for Bleak House’s Inspector Bucket, maybe calling his agency after his alter ego might work. It does, and soon Field is in business with plenty of cases to occupy him, some more personal than others.

This is the first book of a potential series about the Dickens-inspired character of “Inspector Bucket”. Field is a weary ex-policeman with an unhappy marriage, interfering mother-in-law, and only Rosa from Mrs Brambles’ brothel to confide in. When she is murdered by one of Field’s old nemeses, he is on the case ready to catch the culprit and see him swing for his many crimes. Herein lies my own issue with this book, as it is not the usual “whodunit” but more a game of chase interspersed by various other short cases. Field knows the murderer’s identity. so we do as well, rather akin to the “Colombo” TV series, but with various side plots with mostly quick conclusions as Field builds up his business. He sorts out the problem of a vanishing betting shop, investigates a medium, guards a theater where Dickens is giving a reading, and visits more than one opium den, as well as tangling with a femme fatale on and off throughout the book. All this happens in the present tense, and there is a strange beginning where the narrator says that London in the 1850s is not how it is usually portrayed, but then goes on to portray it in the “usual” way. It does come alive rather well with all the smells, poverty, gripping cold and general chicanery that readers of detective stories set in foggy Victorian London know and love. After a disjointed start and middle, it all picks up a pace and ends rather better than expected when we get to the real story…but to say more would spoil the best bits. If there is a second book, it ought to be more interesting due to developments, but making it more of a whodunit and losing the short cases would improve it no end.

Reviewed 2017