A young Charles Dickens and his future wife are our amateur sleuths in A Tale of Two Murders—the first in a series of mysteries by Heather Redmond. Two Epiphanies in succession two young girls have died—possibly by poison—and aspiring journalist Dickens is on a quest to uncover the truth.
There are the usual trappings of a good mystery—a cast of colourful characters, families replete with secrets, and a shoal of red herrings—with a fun overlay of Dickensian homage. Redmond draws some characters from the famous writer’s own life and names others after his most famous literary creations. Occasional lines of dialogue allude to his prose. Nineteenth-century London imbues every page and there’s even a cameo for a gang of street urchins.
Dickens’s writing talents and social attitudes make him a believable detective, while his partner in fighting crime Kate Hogarth is a little nauseatingly perfect. We also get a great picture of the grandfather of Victorian literature in his youth—hardworking, sleep-deprived and desperate for his next meal (a great touch!). I would though have liked a few more nods to the man Dickens would become. Maybe Redmond will, for example, reveal cracks in the Charles/Kate romance later in her series.
I didn’t guess who’d done it until the last few chapters and the plot has enough turns to keep the novel interesting. But, in keeping with a lot of mysteries, the dialogue is clunky and unbelievable. People divulge information too quickly, conversations end almost as soon as they’ve begun and the class dynamics amongst a varied cast don’t ring true in how they speak to each other. I wanted Dickens to be surprised and forced to confront his own assumptions about guilt, danger and gender but this didn’t happen.
If you love mysteries, this one’s definitely for you, but A Tale of Two Murders doesn’t have enough depth to convert even the most Dickens-obsessed of sceptics to the genre.