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#Bookreview THE PHANTOM IN THE FOG: A BOWMAN OF THE YARD INVESTIGATION by Richard James (@RichardNJames). This historical mystery series keeps getting better and better #mystery #historicalfiction

Hi all:

I think this series will probably be familiar to many of you. I’m a big fan.

The Phantom in the Fog: A Bowman Of The Yard Investigation by Richard James

Bowman of the Yard: Book Four

‘Wonderfully atmospheric, full of the thrills of Victorian London.’ Adam Croft

Autumn, 1892

Following a manic episode, Detective Inspector George Bowman recovers in Colney Hatch lunatic asylum. He is surprised when Elizabeth Morley, an acquaintance who had sought to offer him comfort following the death of his wife, pays an unexpected visit with news of an intriguing case.

A mythical figure – christened Jumping Jack by the salacious press – has returned to the streets of London, leaving a trail of death in his wake.

Bowman calls upon Sergeant Graves to act as his agent in the outside world, resulting in his erstwhile companion being subjected to the wrath of Graves’ new superior, the recently promoted Detective Superintendent Callaghan.

Graves is taken off the investigation and ordered to look into an issue of fraud at The Royal Armitage Bank. As his enquiries continue, however, it becomes clear the two cases may be linked.

As the killer strikes again and the citizens of London grow convinced they are in the grip of a supernatural force, Inspector Bowman must rely upon what’s left of his wits, an improvised map of London on his bedside wall and the memory of an investigation from his days as a detective sergeant.

Does a series of crimes from a decade ago hold the key to the current atrocities being committed in the fogbound streets of London?

Bowman must solve the crime from his hospital ward to enable his colleagues to confront the killer among them.

Picture of author Richard James
Author Richard James

About the author:

I’ve been telling stories all my life. As an actor I’ve spent a career telling other people’s, from William Shakespeare to Charles Dickens. As I writer, I get to create my own!

I have written almost thirty plays which are produced the world over; from USA to New Zealand and just about everywhere in between. They’re mostly comedies and frequently win awards in competitions and festivals.

In 2014 I wrote a memoir, Space Precinct Unmasked, detailing my experiences working as an actor on Gerry Anderson’s last live action sci-fi series. This was followed by an adaptation of the unscreened pilot episode, Demeter City, and four new short stories featuring the officers of Precinct 88, Space Precinct: Revisited.

As to my own series, I decided I wanted to write a sequence of books set in a world I would want to spend time in and featuring characters I would want to be with. Most importantly, it would have to feature a grisly murder or two! I love the Victorian era. It seems such a rich period of history, populated by some hugely colourful characters, so that is where we first meet Detective Inspector George Bowman.

The Head In The Ice is the first in the Bowman Of The Yard series and follows Bowman’s investigation into the discovery of – well, a head in the ice of the River Thames. Over the course of the book, however, and throughout the series in general, we see he has demons of his own to contend with.

There are four books in the Bowman Of The Yard series in all, together with some short stories from Bowman’s Casebook. These have been collected into two volumes and fill in the gaps between the novels, giving the reader the chance to follow Bowman’s professional progress and personal battles (he’s a troubled man, as you’ll see) over twelve months of his life.

‘A masterful new Victorian mystery series.’ Rosie Amber books
‘A genuinely impressive debut.’ Andrew Cartmel
‘Full of the thrills of Victorian London.’ Adam Croft

I really hope you like the books. If you do, you can tweet me your thoughts at @RichardNJames. I hope to hear from you!

Richard James

My review:

I received an early ARC copy of this novel, and I freely chose to review it.

I have read and reviewed the three previous novels in the series (The Head in the Ice, The Devil in the Dock, and The Body in the Trees) and this is one of a handful of series I follow and have no hesitation in recommending. I’d be pushed to choose between all the novels in the series, but right now, I’d say this is perhaps my favourite. As is the case with the rest, I think this novel could be read as a standalone, because the story is independent and resolved within this volume, and there is enough background information to quickly get a sense of who the main characters are and where they come from, although for those of us who have been following the series, there is the added joy of meeting again some secondary characters we had come across before, and also of catching up on what had happened to the Inspector Bowman and his colleagues (and friends).

The description provides plenty of information about what happens in the book, and I don’t want to reveal too much. Inspector Bowman is an inmate at the lunatic asylum, and the novel offers us an insight view of what the experience might have been like (as with the other books, the novel is narrated in the third person from an omniscient point of view that focuses on different characters as the story progresses, mostly those of Bowman, Graves, and Hicks, although we are also privy to the thoughts and feelings of some of the minor characters at times), sharing in some of the more enlightened and novel aspects psychiatry had to offer at the time. As a psychiatrist, I was enthralled by the French ‘alienist’ called in to look into Bowman’s illness and particularly enjoyed the description of his application of Galvani’s ideas (an early form of electroconvulsive therapy or electroshock) to try to help Bowman. Although I have a personal interest in that aspect of the story, I’m pretty sure most people will be intrigued by it as well. (And don’t worry; we aren’t in Someone Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s territory. What happens is much more akin to my own professional experience of the treatment).

I loved the fact that, through Bowman’s recollections of a past case (thanks to the treatment), we get to learn a bit more about his late wife and how they met. Bowman’s acumen and the way he manages to make connections and work out a vital piece of information about the case his colleagues are working on at Scotland Yard, even in his difficult circumstances, make for a thrilling reading experience. The vivid description of the locations and events has a cinematic quality that has long been one of the strengths of this series.

There are several murders, although that is not evident at first, nor is the connection between the cases, and because Bowman is away, we get to see more of Graves (a good man as well as a thorough and sharp detective), Hicks (a flawed character who’d do almost anything for a quiet and comfortable life, although not intentionally dishonest), and their now boss, Callahan, who seems intent on keeping Graves investigating a fraud case rather than getting involved in the murders. I enjoyed seeing more of the inside workings of the Yard, getting to see Graves in action and how he tries to keep the balance between following orders and doing what he feels is right, and, as usual, I enjoyed the way the author seamlessly introduces information and details about life in London at the time. We get to visit a big newspaper’s archive, we learn some things about London we might never have heard of, and we also have a very mysterious baddie with a touch of the supernatural. Best of all, on a note at the end of the book, the author explains that the inspiration for the mysterious character was a real (?) criminal of Victorian London who was never caught (and although it was a Jack, it wasn’t ‘that’ Jack).

The mystery side of the story worked well for me, with its combination of the fraud story (frauds and con games are not new, that’s for sure) and the murders, and although I guessed some aspects of it, there were enough twists, red herrings, and inside politics to keep me engaged in the story and completely wrapped up in the investigation. I enjoyed the resolution of the case, which cranked up the tension, and the novel ends on a positive and happy note this time (mostly happy at least), a total winner for me. I also liked our insight into some of the side-characters, and the way we experience the era through the character’s senses: we smell, hear, see, taste, and feel London, in all its drabness and splendour.

There was nothing I disliked from the book, although readers who prefer a single point of view might want to check a sample before making a decision. As I have explained in my previous reviews, I think the author’s choice of narrative style works very well for the books, and I don’t find it confusing, but we are all different.

The series is not gruesome or gore in the extreme, but it is realistic in its depiction of the era and the crimes, so I wouldn’t recommend it to people who prefer a gentle and light read. It is a Victorian police procedural/mystery that will satisfy both, lovers of mystery and those keen on historical fiction, as readers get the best of both worlds. I cannot recommend this novel and the rest of the series highly enough. I’m eagerly waiting to hear what will be next for Bowman and his team.

Thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to keep safe, first of all, and to like, share, comment, review, and always keep smiling.


Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE HIDDEN LIVES OF JACK THE RIPPER’S VICTIMS by Robert Hume (@penswordbooks). Their plight should not be forgotten #non-fiction #truecrime

Hi all:

Today’s review is about a non-fiction book on a very popular subject but from a different perspective.

The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims by Robert Hume

The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims by Robert Hume

Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly are inextricably linked in history. Their names might not be instantly recognisable, and the identity of their murderer may have eluded detectives and historians throughout the years, but there is no mistaking the infamy of Jack the Ripper. For nine weeks during the autumn of 1888, the Whitechapel Murderer brought terror to London s East End, slashing women s throats and disembowelling them. London s most famous serial killer has been pored over time and again, yet his victims have been sorely neglected, reduced to the simple label: prostitute. The lives of these five women are rags-to-riches-to-rags stories of the most tragic kind. There was a time in each of their lives when these poor women had a job, money, a home and a family. Hardworking, determined and fiercely independent individuals, it was bad luck, or a wrong turn here or there, that left them wretched and destitute. Ignored by the press and overlooked by historians, it is time their stories were told.

Author Robert Hume

About the author:

Robert Hume was born in 1955 and grew up in Beckenham where he attended Beckenham and Penge Grammar/Langley Park School.
At Keele University he read History and Psychology, before undertaking research studies into the history of education for his M.A. and Ph.D degrees.
An experienced teacher, moderator, G.C.S.E. History examiner, ‘A’ level History, ‘A’ level Psychology and IB examiner, he began his teaching career in Kent in 1982, when he joined the staff of Chaucer Technology School in Canterbury.
In 1985 he moved to Tonbridge to become Head of History at Hillview School for Girls.
From 1988 to 2010 he was Head of History at Clarendon House Grammar School in Ramsgate, where he was voted ‘Kent Teacher of the Year’ in 1992. For many years he managed the football teams and ran the Scrabble club which won the U.K. Schools’ Scrabble competition in 1999, the first Scrabble tournament in the world to be broadcast live over the internet.
Robert has lectured before audiences of teachers in Kent (where he was Secretary of the Kent History Teachers’ Association between 1984 and 1989), Italy and the U.S.A.
In December 1992, as part of the 500th anniversary commemorations, he was invited to give lectures on Christopher Columbus and emigration on board the QE2.
In addition to a number of articles in history journals and magazines (including BBC History Magazine and History Today), Dr Hume has written several books, including Early Child Immigrants to Virginia, 1618-1642 (Magna Carta, Baltimore, 1986); a G.C.S.E. History textbook, Education Since 1700 (Heinemann, 1989); a biography of Christopher Columbus, Christopher Columbus and the European Discovery of America (Gracewing, 1992); a historical novel (Ruling Ambition); an investigation into a Victorian railway disaster (Death by Chance); and six children’s books – on Perkin Warbeck, Dr Joseph Bell, Olaudah Equiano, Mary Shelley, Thomas Crapper and Gretel Bergmann.
Recently, he appeared in an episode of BBC TV Crimesolver that investigated the Abergele train crash.
Robert lives in Broadstairs, Kent where he is currently a home tutor for the East Kent Health Needs Education Service (‘The Willows’), a reviewer for The School Librarian, and a feature writer for the Irish Examiner from 2010 to the present.

His website is

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft of Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

The mystery of Jack the Ripper, one of the greatest unsolved series of crimes in history, is also probably one of the best known, at least superficially. Most of us have heard of it and have watched movies, read novels, or even perused and researched the different theories about who Jack might have been. Many authors and experts have also written about it, proposing solutions to the puzzle, or using it as an inspiration for their own fiction.

It’s difficult not to feel curious about it, due the nature of the crimes, the fact that they all took place in a short period of time in a very small area of London, and because the Victorian Era seems to have a hold on a lot of people’s imagination. While for many it is a historical period looked at with nostalgia and wishful thinking, others are fully aware of its dark side. It is not all full of sweet traditions, big houses, Queen Victoria, Christmas trees and the family singing around the fire… As anybody who has read Charles Dickens will know, things were quite hard for those who weren’t well off or whose luck had run out.

I am not an expert on Jack the Ripper, and I am aware there are Ripperologists who have read everything (or almost everything) written about him. That is not my case, and I chose to read this book because the idea behind it felt right. The media pay so much attention to murders and murderers (especially serial killers) that sometimes the victims and their families become an afterthought or a footnote at best. That is true here, where although the names of these women have reached us, they are often seen as just that, his victims, and we know little about their lives before they crossed his path.

I know there has been another recent book published on the subject, but I haven’t read it, so I can’t make any comparisons. I have read in some reviews that there are some mistakes and inaccuracies in this book, but I don’t know enough to comment, and because my book is an ARC copy, it might well be that any inaccuracies were corrected later. I can say that I learned a lot (within the limited amount of information available) about these five women and their sad circumstances.

The author dedicates a separate chapter to each, he includes an introduction, a list of illustrations, plenty of photographs (some very graphic, so I recommend caution to readers who prefer to avoid that kind of content), abundant notes offering information about the sources used in each chapter, and also a conclusion and a bibliography that will be useful for those who want to learn more.

What I found particularly compelling was the way in which Hume tries to bring to life these women by quoting the words of those who knew them, and trying to paint a picture of their lives and of the places they lived in. He is very successful in illustrating what Whitechapel was like at the time, and how easy it would have been for somebody to fall on hard times and end up homeless and without any means. Women had a harder time finding work than men, and he makes a point of emphasising that at the time there was little to no help for those who fell on hard times. Somebody might have been living a decent life one day, and be kicked out because of an accident and losing one’s job the next. He is very sympathetic and understanding towards the circumstances of these women, who were judged at the time as being morally deficient at best, or corrupt and not deserving of help at worst.

Although scarcely angels, these women were trying hard to survive poverty independently, by taking on any casual work that became available. Homeless and without support, their gradual move into prostitution was not due to laziness or depravity, but personal circumstances: betrayal, bereavement, unemployment, domestic violence, or a simple mistake here and there.’

One wonders what would have happened if the victims had belonged to one of the “better” sections of society and how much more effort would have been invested in finding the culprit.

I have read about the historical period in other books, and I was familiar with some of the information but was impressed by the amount of detail on the locations, the way the workhouses were run and functioned, and the day-to-day life of the inhabitants of the era. We become familiar with pubs, accommodation, brothels, churches, and we learn of the friendships and relationships between the residents of the neighbourhood, their often broken relationships with their relatives, and how this underworld was connected to the rest of London. It is not a place I would have wished to set foot in at the time, but some members of the best of society (mostly men) enjoyed visiting “the den of iniquity” as if they were going to the zoo to see the wildlife or to engage in some anthropological research, when not simply looking for other pleasures.

In his conclusion, Hume reminds us of how little things have changed in some respects and mentions the fact that prostitutes have a much higher mortality rate than the general population and are eighteen times more likely to be murdered. As he writes, all those women also deserve to have their stories told, and perhaps that will go some way to change these horrendous statistics.

I recommend this book to people who have an interest in the era and the area, and particularly in women’s lives. I don’t think experts will find anything new here, but for those who want a general overview of the social circumstances of Whitechapel and the East End of London at the time and also for readers who would like to get a different perspective on the murders, this book offers both, a good read and an important resource.

Thanks to the author, to Rosie Croft and the team of Pen & Sword, to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep safe and keep smiling!



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