A gothic tale of murder and corruption set in 1840s Victorian London, taking inspiration from our most famous 19th century writers.
Railway Baron Sir Martin Malprelate has been laying waste to the warren of Camden; buying up houses and clearing streets for his new railway line linking King’s Cross with the prosperous town of Middlemarch. He stands to make his fortune ever more vast and to earn the loathing of all who attempt to stand up to him. Little wonder, then, that he meets a violent end on a foggy street after walking out of a particularly bitter meeting with outraged residents facing eviction. But the cause of his death causes more wonder. How could he have possibly fallen beneath the wells of a speeding spectral train running on tracks not yet even built?
Sir Martin’s death is investigated by the police, but the company employ one of its senior engineers, Mr Bryde, to pursue his own investigation. Bryde uncovers a network of resentment and conspiracy, popular opposition to the expansion of the railways, agitating workers, scheming shareholders, corrupt politicians and a gallery of varied and grotesque characters, all of whom had some stake in the old man’s death.
Lacing it’s realism with both social commentary and the gothic imaginations of the time The Murder of Sir Martin Malprelate is a vivid recreation of a London stalked by poverty and haunted by visions of demons and ghosts; a world of slums, lavish wealth and opium dens. The narrative is coloured by exotic characters all too ready to believe in the supernatural but the plot is driven by rationality and the all too real motivations of greed and revenge.
The Death of Sir Martin Malprelate is a historical fiction novel which blends its story with touches of classic science fiction, intrigue and an excellent homage to the classics of English literature, written by Adam Roberts, and published by Datura Books. The apparently impossible assassination of Sir Martin Malprelate, a railroad magnate, becomes the spark of a case whose ramifications while take us on a ride for the 1848's Great Britain.
Malprelate's death is definitely a problem for the railroad company, asking Mr Bryde to investigate and to solve how reality and what witness are claiming they saw are compatible. However, soon it becomes clear that this case it is even more complicated that it seems; Roberts using this resource to create a big mystery, which eventually ends involving who will take the main role, Vavasour Holmes, author's way to introduce us to the epitome of British detective novels.
With all those elements, the plot grows more convoluted, but absorbing you into the narration; Roberts shows his appreciation for English literature sparkling several references to different authors (some more obscure than others, but personally, as somebody who speaks English as second language, most of them are really easy to recognize). The historical accuracy and how well small details are portrayed also helps immersing the reader into 1848's London and the labour rights' movements.
While I found most of the book to be excellent, the pacing suffers a bit of slowness when embracing the science-fiction elements; said that, part of the charm is contained in those parts of the plot. Social commentary takes an important role once the novel is at full steam, leading towards an interesting reflection that can be applied nowadays.
If you are looking for some mystery historical fiction, The Death of Sir Martin Malprelate is an excellent piece which is a delicious homage to English literature; the attention to detail is another plus, making this a great novel by Adam Roberts.
Adam Roberts (born 1965) is an academic, critic and novelist. He also writes parodies under the pseudonyms of A.R.R.R. Roberts, A3R Roberts and Don Brine. He also blogs at The Valve, a group blog devoted to literature and cultural studies.
He has a degree in English from the University of Aberdeen and a PhD from Cambridge University on Robert Browning and the Classics. He teaches English literature and creative writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. Adam Roberts has been nominated twice for the Arthur C. Clarke Award: in 2001, for his debut novel, Salt, and in 2007, for Gradisil