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Victorian Whore Book Alert [Aug. 10th, 2005|10:33 pm]
Victorian Prostitutes

victorian_whore

[naturalbornkaos]
[mood |ripper]
[music |Editors - "The Back Room"]

Thanks to medusa spotting it, I recently picked up and read a book that may be of interest to some of you fellow Victorian whore spotters...

"The Fiend In Human" by John Maclachlan Gray - anyone read it? If so, what did you think? If not, you may fancy it...

The plot concerns the one William Ryan (known to the papers as "Chokee Bill"), who is, at the start of the book, arrested and sent to the gallows for the crime of strangling five "fallen women" to death with a scarf... Meanwhile, one Edmund Whitty, an alcoholic, laudanum-addled "senior correspondent" from muck-racking newspaper The Falcon, is down on his luck and decides Ryan is (as he insists) innocent and that there may be a career-saving opportunity in uncovering and printing the story of the REAL "Chokee Bill". Together with the good-hearted street patterer Henry Owler (H.Owler - geddit?), they bite off way more than they can chew and end up embroiled in a murder-mystery caper that reaches all the way from the slums of the St Giles Rookery to the drawing rooms of Mayfair. As these things so often do...

The mystery story itself here is fairly weak and I guessed the solution quite early on but that's not why I'd recommend the book anyway. I would recommend it as, besides a keen attention to historical detail and a whole host of gleefully bizarre characters, it's a cracking good read and a wild ride getting there, even if you can predict the outcome. I've never heard of the author and it appears to be his debut novel but he writes with wit, verve and incredible confidence. His turn of phrase is quite the marvel, ranging within a matter of pages from the whimsical (ie: the comparing of the lines beneath a barman's eyes to "sacks the size of the imparted secrets he has to carry with him") to the imaginatively coarse (ie: the naming of a certain combination of circumstances designed to woo disreputable women in the dark of a carriage as "the four whoresmen of the apocalypse"). He paints a vivid picture of Victorian street life that, despite the dark and occasionally grisly subject matter, bubbles with life and humour. Even if the humour is usually very much of the gallows variety (the 'punchline', as it were, to the whole story is a corker, as shocking as it is hilarious).

[There are some great bits of conversation amongst the (many) Victorian whores who populate the tale too, so you get your money's worth on that front.]

This isn't the best book you'll ever read but compared with a lot of drab, clichéd Victorian "thrillers" that are out there, I found it quite the page-turner and I'm sure it deserves a lot more recognition than it seems to have had so far. The good news is, checking on Amazon, it seems Gray has penned a sequel to it that's out in hardback this September and, if nothing else, "The Fiend In Human" whet my appetite enough to want to pre-order it... :)
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