Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Frightened Man - A Victorian Mystery

The ties to Jack the Ripper are peripheral in Kenneth Cameron's The Frightened Man, despite its iconic cover, but it's still a compelling Victorian thriller with many Ripper trappings. Denton, the hero, spends a lot of time prowling foggy streets, clashing with wrong-headed Scotland Yard detectives and digging for answers in the darkest corners of poverty-ridden 1900 London.

The Ripper case is in the past, but the frightened man of the title--who draws former U.S. sheriff Denton into the twisting, violent investigation of a new killing--believes he's seen a man who might be Springheel Jack. 

He calls on Denton, who's given up the military and law enforcement for a career as a Poe-esque author and has growing reputation on multiple fronts. The request wraps Denton into the case so tightly he can't escape.

The Cast
Denton is a wonderful creation, tough yet reeling from a broken heart and driven toward the truth even at great personal cost. Cameron, author of numerous books, backs his central character up with some great supporting players:

Atkins: his humorous but tough and pragmatic butler who's as given to get-rich-quick schemes as Ralph Kramden.

Munro, a friendly police official who's helpful but not always able to override Denton's enemies. Think Rockford's Dennis Becker.

Janet Striker, a crusading advocate for downtrodden women with a complex past that's almost mythic. She's a strong and compelling match for the lead.

Denton struggles through some tough spots and endures dangerous attacks as he works toward the truth, even going to personal expense to track down minute details. A particularly rigorous scene involves him working through brutal obstacles to enter a locked dwelling.

A few personal facts from Denton's past seem to come a little late in the story, but that's a quibble, especially when the story reaches its action-packed climax.

If you like Victorian tales, The Frightened Man isn't a pure mystery puzzler, but it hangs together well and offers page-turning thrills. I've already added the sequel, The Bohemian Girl, to my to-read list and to my Kindle.

What writers should watch for: 
  • The deft creation of characters.
  • The blending of mainstream and thriller plotting


Charles Gramlich said...

I wasn't a horribly big fan of Victorian type stories until I started reading the C. S. Harris mystery series, which is Regency I think but one of those historical series. Now I find I like the trappings quite a lot. I'll have to check this one out.

Rick said...

Damn, Sidney- this sounds great! Thanks.

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