1905. A year after ‘the affair’ in Dinas Powys, Thomas Bexley has become a drunkard and recluse, haunted by terrible visions of the dead. But when news of a spate of extraordinary kidnappings reaches him, Thomas is shocked to learn that his dear friend and former mentor, Professor Elijah Hawthorn, is the lead suspect.
Discovering a plea for help from Hawthorn claiming to have unearthed a gruesome conspiracy at the heart of the Metropolitan Police, Thomas embarks on a journey to prove Hawthorn’s innocence.
But wherever Thomas goes, he is followed by the dead, and as the mystery of Hawthorn’s disappearance deepens, so too does Thomas’s apparent insanity…
How can Thomas be certain of the truth when he can’t trust anybody around him, not even himself…?
Hi and welcome to my review of Letters from the Dead! Huge thanks to Alex Layt and Orion for the gorgeous review copy!
Letters from the Dead is the second novel featuring Thomas Bexley, but it can be read as a standalone, I should know, it’s what I did. Throughout Letters from the Dead there are references to and hints at what happened to Thomas in the first instalment, A Shadow on the Lens. These references and hints are enough to allow readers like myself who are new to Thomas Bexley to follow the narrative of Letters from the Dead perfectly and I must say that they’ve made me very curious indeed. I enjoyed my time with Thomas so much that I’ve ordered a copy of A Shadow on the Lens.
In Letters from the Dead, we find London terrorised by the Wraith of London. Men and women from all walks of life and all corners of the capital are being kidnapped by a criminal so insidious, so dangerous, so fear-inspiring that people are saying he might be the phantom of the Ripper, able to walk through walls and locked doors. The victims are missing, presumed dead, and the police is at a loss. Former special investigator / crime scene photographer Thomas Bexley is called in for questioning, since a friend and former colleague of his, an forensics expert named Hawthorn, is the prime suspect. Thomas doesn’t know what or who to believe and he’s obviously going through a bit of a rough patch: he can see ghosts and he’s not quite coping with that fact.
On his quest for the truth, Thomas’ lot is thrown in with Beatrice’s, who tells him she’s the sister of one of the missing persons and dead set on finding out who’s responsible, on getting justice. What ensues is part murder mystery, part ghost story, all fantastic historical crime fiction. Set a few decades after Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel murders, that is exactly the gloomy atmosphere and eerie vibe you can expect from Letters from the Dead, and there are some decidedly creepy scenes in there as well. Victims go missing without leaving a trace or with anyone in their vicinity – family, friends, neighbours – being none the wiser. It is all awfully mysterious so of course I couldn’t get enough of it.
I saw one of the reveals (or rather: part of it) coming ages before Thomas did. At first it made me feel quite clever – look at me, master sleuth – but after a while I just wanted to scream at him to wake up and smell the bloody coffee! Despite his issues and struggles, or perhaps thanks to his issues and struggles, I really liked Thomas Bexley as a protagonist. Most of the time we got on like a house on fire, and part of my obsession with Letters from the Dead stemmed from my needing him to be okay.
A satisfying murder mystery and compelling historical crime fiction with the added bonus (to this particular reader, at least) of an occult element in the form of ghosts, Letters from the Dead was the perfect fit for me, and I think a great many other readers as well. If you enjoy Gothic historical crime fiction set in Victorian/Edwardian times or books like The Quickening by Rhiannon Ward, Spirited by Julie Cohen or Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver, I highly recommend you check out Letters from the Dead!