The London Murder Mysteries: The Montgomery Murder
London, Picadilly, 2010, 246p
Years of watching murder mysteries with my mother have led to a love of crime dramas. So when they are successfully created for a teenage audience, and set in Victorian London, we are onto an instant winner.
Alfie lives with his brother Sammy and his cousins in a Covent Garden cellar. They are children of the street, begging and performing tricks with their loyal dog to bring in enough for food and rent, but they are savvy and knowledgable. When a murder happens in a nearby street, Alfie is recruited by Inspector Denham to find out the talk about town and solve the mystery.
Mr Montgomery is recently returned to his wife and son from India, where he owned a tea plantation. It seems the crime was not commited for theft, as the body still has many valuables about it. The initial suspect is an Indian boy whose father was hanged for stealing - is this boy out for revenge? But could it be the wife or son, their peaceful lives disrupted by the return of their breadwinner; or even the suspicious Butler, clearly an angry and dangerous man?
The story is led by the young protagonists, who work almost completely without the support of any adults. They manage to find ways into the Montgomery household through a connection with the scullery maid, and they use their knowledge of the city to find people with the answers they need. But the children increasingly find themselves at risk, drawing attention to themselves as they poke around in other people's business, eager to discover the truth.
Cora Harrison has an easy, smooth writing style on which the reader can float along with the story. It is fast-paced and expertly plotted, leaving no opportunities for the reader to get bored with all the action that takes place. And the characters are succinctly developed, though you can tell there is more to learn about these four boys as the series progresses.