Walthamstow, 1902: Archie and his police sergeant pal Frank Tyrell investigate the disappearance of teenager Lilian and the discovery of a corpse in the River Lea – Eleanor ‘Nell’ Redfern.
Did her father’s ambitious plans to marry her to a rail magnate cause her to run away to her watery doom?
And what about Lilian Steggles, a star swimmer with her eye on the 1908 Olympics – what prompted her to disappear from home and where is she now?
Archie uses his artistic skills to identify Nell and thence to track down her story and that of the other victims of a dastardly scheme to exploit young girls for the benefit of lascivious older men.
Part of creating a well-realised historical mystery is really immersing your reader into the world. Jacqueline Jacques does this to great effect in Shades of Deception, the latest in her Archie Price mystery series. Archie’s Edwardian world is bought vividly to life in all of it’s occasionally grimy glory.
When a body is pulled out of the River Lea, many assume it might be that of missing local teenager Lilian Steggles. To discover the identity of the corpse, police sergeant Frank Tyrell asks Archie Price if he can use the skull to reconstruct the facial features of the dead woman. Encouraged by his daughter Clara and best friend Polly, Archie agrees to attempt a reconstruction. When the finished result is ready to view, it becomes clear that the mystery woman isn’t Lillian Steggles but Eleanor Redfern, the daughter of a local businessman who went missing several years earlier. But how did Eleanor end up in the river? And if the body in the water is Eleanor, then where is Lillian Steggles?
Shades of Deception is the third in the Archie Price mystery series and, if I’m honest, I did find it quite difficult to get to grips with all of the returning characters and their relationships to each other. Archie has a close-knit circle of friends and relations, many of whom are clearly returning characters from earlier books and have quite involved backstories as to how they became involved in Archie’s life.
As a result I found myself less connected to the characters as I didn’t quite understand their clearly rich and involved pasts, and felt as if I was missing out by not having knowledge of the events of previous books. Background is provided to introduce you to important people and relevant story beats – so this may not bother other readers as much as did me – however new readers may wish to start with the first book, The Colours of Corruption, and move through the series if you really want to become fully immersed in Archie and his world.
That world, as I said at the beginning, is richly detailed and vividly bought to life. Unlike many historical novels, this is not a novel of country manors and fine townhouses. Archie inhabits the world of the respectable working classes, and his life is filled with the pleasures and worries of day-to-day Edwardian life: earning a living, bringing up his daughter as a widower, and whether he will ever be able to persuade best friend Polly to marry him. Archie’s world is, at times, busy and chaotic but I got a real sense of life for a man of his status and position.
There is also plenty going on in terms of the plot, with Archie’s investigations and personal relationships taking him into the depths of a music hall, across various areas of London, and back to his hometown of Llantwit Major in Wales. Although I found it quite hard to follow the plot strand featuring the disappearance of Lillian Steggles (a returning character from an earlier book), the way in which this does eventually tie into the wider mystery of what happened to Eleanor Redfern is quite ingenious, and Jacqueline Jacques has done an excellent job of bringing together various strands of what are clearly long-standing plot hooks from earlier books and the threads of the mystery that lies at the heart of this novel.
On a personal level I didn’t engage with Shades of Deception as much as I would have liked too – I felt that my lack of previous knowledge of the characters prevented me from fully gelling with the plot. That said, I was engaged enough by the settings and characters to look at the first novel in the series and I’m that sure returning readers will find much to enjoy here (as evidenced by some excellent reviews for the novel from said readers on Goodreads) – this is an imaginative mystery set with a well-realised historical setting and rich characterisation.
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, and Berts Books.
My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 14 October 2020 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.
Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!