Sugar and spice and everything nice, and maybe some frogs and snails, too.
Publisher: Orion Books
First Published: 2009
Date Reviewed: 1st July 2011
Denton, a novelist and ex-Town Marshal from America, now living in England, has had issues with enemies before. Now, in amongst his fan mail is a letter from a man who wants a signed copy of every book he’s written, but doesn’t provide an address. And there is a letter from someone who has found a letter addressed to Denton that speaks of fear. Mary Thomason is afraid, but what of, and why was her letter to Denton not sent?
This is the second book about Denton, but although there are references to the first, The Bohemian Girl can be read as a standalone, which is just as well in this reviewer’s case. Lured by a beautiful hardback and later the reader of the paperback, she didn’t know a first book existed until she sat down to read the second.
Atkins stopped him at the front door. “Going to rain.” He held out an umbrella.
“I’m not English.”
Atkins draped a mackintosh over his left arm. “The rain will be.”
The Bohemian Girl begins with great promise and keeps it up for a good length of time. The setting is Victorian/Edwardian England (the book takes place after Victoria’s death but before the coronation of her son), gritty and full of period detail. The characters are fun to read about and because of them it’s very much a cross between Sherlock Holmes, at least the film, and Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart Quartet – for the good relationship between master and sidekick, and the thrill of mystery. The relationship between Denton and Atkins is complimented by fast-paced dialogue that is a lot of the reason for the humour. The female character, Mrs Striker, is one of those strong heroines who makes historical fiction so readable in our current time.
Yet the writing could be more detailed in itself. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand what Cameron is trying to say because he will leave out required words or use words that don’t quite work. His inclusion of accents doesn’t always stay true to the reality of what they actually sound like, and sometimes it seems he forgot that he gave a person an accent once upon a time.
But it’s the plot that really lets the story down. Although there is not so much intrigue and mystery for the reader (one gets the sense Cameron thought he was providing enough, and unfortunately he was wrong) the first two thirds or thereabouts are interesting and there are plenty of reasons to keep reading. But then it just stops, and the story becomes more about medicine, and there came a time when I wondered if Cameron had had a mid-book crisis and decided he wanted to write about philosophy instead. This part of the book is written in the manner of a film sequence where they show you glimpses of different days one after the other, the sort of stuff that has sorrowful music behind it as day after day a person tries to get something done. The technique doesn’t really work in a book.
The issue with there being not enough intrigue is the in the sparse details. Well, they aren’t really sparse, but there aren’t as many as in other novels of the same nature. It’s as though Denton is ready to work hard to find answers, but Cameron thinks that taking it slowly is better. It’s a case of there not being enough “get-up-and-go”. And there is little work done to create good red herrings or a good basis for the reader to decide who did the crime.
The romantic subplot is crafted well and Cameron stays true to the person he made in Mrs Striker, keeping her strong throughout.
The Bohemian Girl is a good enough book, but Cameron needs to believe in his characters more and let them guide him. He succeeds in writing about England (no exotics or the like) and has the skill to write a masterpiece. Unfortunately this particular book isn’t it, but it’s a definite step in the right direction.
July 17, 2011, 10:12 am
Really well written review. :)
Shame it wasn’t that great but it’s good that you could read this book as a standalone. I found myself doing that once – reading a book that was third in a series and I hadn’t even realised it!
Charlie: Yes, it’s good when you can read things out of order. There is a certain daunting quality when you come to a series late.