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Two bodies are discovered on the same night in the same part of London: both shocking, both inexplicable Ė neither entirely human.
Police Commissioner Sir Richard Mayneís prized Detective Force is being mocked by the press on one side and investigated by Parliament on the other. His notorious investigator Inspector Albert Newsome seems afflicted by a dangerous mania and Sir Richard himself is expected to stand before parliament to defend the practices of his men. So when two houses are apparently burned down by an incendiary, the commissioner sees an opportunity to again recruit the victims of the crime: ex-detective George Williamson and his shadowy friend Noah Dyson.
Together, they are obliged to collaborate in a case more gruesome and extraordinary than any of them has experienced. Further inhuman effigies appear, Scotland Yard itself is robbed, Mr Williamson is arrested for murder, and men walk the streets wearing the exact likenesses of others. Is the evil mind behind this chaos the same man being sought by Inspector Newsome? And is the villainís aim blackmail, revenge, anarchy . . . or merely terror?
In this city of many faces, voices and guises, how can any man be recognised as oneís lethal adversary?
How does this book work with the rest of the series?
It continues where The Thievesí Labyrinth left off and follows the core characters into an entirely new, but connected, story. Itís a longer book than any of the others and has a more complex plot. Also, I think the characters achieve a greater depth in this one, building on their experiences in the first three.
The cover is quite frightening. Does this reflect the tone of the story?
Well, all of the books feature grisly murders in a dark and dangerous city! In the past, Iíve not really had any control over the cover design, but this time I was able to work with a designer on something that evokes the spirit of the books as written. If you look closely, you can see that the skull/mask is made of many architectural details woven into an overall image. London itself is a multiplicity of facades that hide darker secrets Ė a series of masks, essentially.
So the book is about masks and masking?
Literally and figuratively, yes. Itís also about effigies and likenesses. There are scenes in Madame Tussaudís, scenes in anatomical prosthetics shops, and scenes in shops that sell medical models in wax. Everywhere the characters look, there are doubles, imposters and reflections. Thereís also a heavy focus on taxidermy and the art of re-creating dead things as models of life.
Tell us about pathognomy and physiognomy?
Forensics was at a very early stage in the 1840s and the police were investigating all sorts of ways to know a criminal before he committed a crime. They fell under the general term of Ďanthropometryí (man-measuring) and these two pseudo-sciences were among them. Pathognomy was the study of a manís movements and behaviour to discern his character. Physiognomy was about the shape of his body and what it said about him. Phrenology (the meaning of the bumps on the head) was a sub-category of physiognomy. For a while in the nineteenth century, part of the police selection process actually involved a physiognomy expert merely looking at potential recruits and rejecting them on the shape of their head or body. All of these things feature in the story.
Apart from Sir Richard, there is one other real historical character in this book. Who?
Francois Vidocq, the ex-chief of the Parisian Secret Police. He was in London in the 1840s and there are rumours that he may have met his English counterpart. I put them together and see what they have to say to each other. One is a straight-laced barrister, the other is an adventurous rogue, but Iím sure there was mutual respect.
How have the characters moved on?
Theyíve all developed in the direction theyíve been going all along. Inspector Newsome continues to be a rule-breaker, even if it means risking his career. George Williamsonís confused morality is really tested. Noah finds himself in a position where, for the first time in a long time, he has to fight to survive. Benjamin, as ever, is a reliable ally, who, with the doughty Mr Cullen, are sidekicks to be proud of. They all get time in the plot. A character from The Thievesí Labyrinth is also back Ė The Italian. Heís as bad and as dangerous as ever.
Any new characters?
Two of my favourites are Tobias Smalletts, a grubby and foul-mouthed street urchin with high ambitions, and a conman called Perkin Mullender. Heís played so many roles in his life, heís not sure who he is. Are they good or bad? Youíll have to decide!
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