A solid series opener. 3/5 stars.
Thank you to Bloomsbury, Raven Books and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.
The blurb: The start of an enticing new historical series set in Victorian London; introducing Leo Stanhope: a transgender coroner’s assistant who must uncover a killer without risking his own future
Leo Stanhope. Avid chess player; assistant to a London coroner; in love with Maria; and hiding a very big secret.
For Leo was born Charlotte, the daughter of a respectable reverend. But knowing he was meant to be a man – despite the evidence of his body – and unable to cope with living a lie any longer, he fled his family home at just fifteen and has been living as Leo: his secret known to only a few trusted people. But then Maria is found dead and Leo is accused of her murder. Desperate to find her killer and under suspicion from all those around him, he stands to lose not just the woman he loves, but his freedom and, ultimately, his life.
I’m partial to stories set in the Victorian period, a mystery and original characters, and The House on Half Moon Street promised all three.
The descriptions of Victorian London are very successful. The details are excellent, and the passages which conjour up the dingier, fogbound parts of the city were particularly evocative.
I found the mystery so-so. On the plus side, it certainly throws out plenty of twists and red herrings. The pacing seemed a little too slow to begin with, but the action ramped up once the halfway point was passed.
The characters were also a mixed bag. Leo’s secret certainly puts him in lots of dramatic, complicated situations. Unfortunately I felt these predicaments were often more interesting than the character himself. This could be because the book is the first in a planned series and the character is young: there are signs that Leo matures and grows during this story and I’m guessing there’ll be more of this development spread over the rest of the series.
I liked the secondary characters who were all a lot more “colourful”. Leo’s colleagues at the hospital, his friends, his landlord (and his dabbling in dentistry!) and various hoodlums are all memorable and leap off the page, far more than the main character.
Overall: a solid series opener. With the setting firmly established, I’m sure future installments will bring growth to Leo which will establish a firmer connection between him and readers.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul