From the Novel Nine: By Gaslight by Steven Price

July’s book was By Gaslight by Steven Price. The characters in this novel are even more wonderfully complex and well-drawn than the disparate settings: gritty, foggy Victorian London, the brutal American Civil War, and a South Africa booming with diamond mines.

William Pinkerton of the infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency is grieving his father’s recent death. Even though he’s not quite sure whether he loved or despised his father, Pinkerton feels driven to solve the mystery that haunted his father’s life: the notorious thief Edward Shade, who may or may not actually exist.

The novel opens with Pinkerton travelling to London to find Charlotte Reckitt, a woman who reportedly had a relationship with Shade and who may hold the secret to his whereabouts. When pursued by Pinkerton, however, Reckitt jumps off a bridge and into the Thames, and Pinkerton is left to search for other clues from people who worked with his father at the Pinkerton Agency. Meanwhile, Adam Foole has returned to London to search for a lost love from an affair ten years earlier in South Africa. With Charlotte Reckitt gone, Pinkerton believes that Foole may hold the key to finding the elusive Edward Shade, who may be a ghost who never existed.

From what seems at first a relatively straight-forward story line, the plot, the characters, and their backstories become increasingly complex and entangled. There are also a number of side characters who are intriguing and entertaining in their own right. No one is without his or her charms and virtue, but each possesses plenty of vice as well. At every turn, the reader is faced with uncertainty about whose accounts of his or her history are true. Eventually, you’re forced to accept that all of them are true — and false — in their own way: there are many shades of truth.

By Gaslight is beautifully written, with fresh and inventive language that never feels contrived. Even at 731 pages, no one thought the book was too long. All of us enjoyed this novel. (Dare I say loved?)


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