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The Fourteenth Letter
Claire Evans

Sphere (Little, Brown)
6 April 2017/ ISBN 9780751566390

Reviewed by  Rachel A Hyde


Young Phoebe Stanbury is about to go up in the world socially when she marries Benjamin Raycraft, son of the famous inventor, Sir Jasper. But on a June evening in 1881, as the pair are at their engagement party, a naked man bursts in and stabs Phoebe, telling her astonished fiancé that he has done it to save him. Meanwhile, timid lawyer William Lamb visits a reclusive client for the first time and receives a mysterious message for his employer. These seemingly unconnected events set in motion an overdue investigation into a terrible secret that has been hidden for centuries.

This is a real page-turner, and also that rarity – a standalone novel which manages to tell a whole story within two covers. It is not a short book, but there is always something exciting going on, and secrets are unveiled in every chapter, which is no mean feat. At first I found the multiple viewpoints a bit disparate, but they soon started to converge and become entwined in a fascinating way. This is late Victorian London with a “what if” twist, which is not actually supernatural or steampunk, but might appeal to readers who enjoy those types of novels. It is mostly a mystery, as Detective Harry Treadway is charged to investigate the murder, but William is also doing some investigating of his own.

To say much about the plot would give away some of the secrets that make this book such a thrilling read, but expect the unexpected and enjoy the ride. The author is mostly better at plotting and writing exciting scenes than she is at innovative characterisation. There are several stock villains, while Savannah does not quite ring true as a real person, and Harry is the typical world weary old detective at odds with his superiors. William is the most interesting character in my opinion, as he changes so much during his adventures. He goes from a timid and sheltered man to somebody who has taken on the world and improved himself by doing so. All together, this is a truly thrilling read, and I will be looking out for this author’s next book. Highly recommended.

Reviewers Note: Some violence and gory moments

Reviewed 2017