Ann Featherstone is a new author to me but I was attracted by the dense-looking cover of The Newgate Jig at the library and read the book over the weekend. The story opens with a hanging and a young boy shouting 'I will serve him out!' and then 'Pa! Pa! Pa!'
A man has been executed for a crime he didn’t commit and the son, a mere child, swears revenge. It would seem to have nothing to do with Bob Chapman, the quiet Dog Man, who appears in shows with his beautiful dogs Brutus and Nero. A chance meeting and he’s drawn inexorably into a sordid story of crime and wickedness in low-life Victorian London.
The book is written as though it were a Victorian novel and it’s very cleverly done; can hardly be faulted for research and accuracy. You either like this sort of thing or you don’t. At first I was grumbling, 'Why not just read Dickens?' There’s no escaping his influence; some of the scenes of railway building are very reminiscent of those in Dombey and Son. It’s also Dickensian in its descriptions of the slums, taverns, entertainments and boarding houses of the London population shifting for itself as best it can. About half way through the book I got drawn into the story and turned the pages faster and faster towards the end. Unlike Dickens, the author has no useful Cheeryble brothers to help the poor or an Inspector Bucket to solve the crime. In fact there’s not a respectable middle class character in the whole book. There’s no happy ending and I should warn other sensitive souls that the crime at the heart of the book’s mystery is particularly horrific. On the whole, I was impressed.
I see this title is also available for the Kindle, slightly more cheaply. Ann Featherstone’s first crime novel was Walking in Pimlico and I’d like to read it.