It’s difficult to decide what I love most about this book. The writing is exceptionally good – so much so, it’s hard to believe this is a debut. Alex Reeve has a way with words many crime writers would kill for. There are shades of Sarah Waters (Reeve is clearly a fan) and of the queerly historical novels of Neil Bartlett.
Then there’s the characterization. I defy anyone not to fall in love with protagonist Leo Stanhope, who’s living as a man but whose journey to manhood has been fraught with difficulty. Leo is in love with a young girl called Maria, who happens to be a prostitute. And when Maria is found dead, the police think they have their man, little knowing that Leo is both innocent and lives in constant fear of exposure.
Released from police custody, Leo takes on the role of amateur detective, determined to bring the real killer to justice and willing to risk everything in pursuit of the truth.
This is a deeply satisfying tale with many twists and turns and a cast of supporting characters worthy of Dickens.
I hesitate to call it a crime novel. It’s really literary historical fiction in which a crime happens to have been committed. But that’s the great thing about crime fiction these days – it’s as diverse as the many people who read and write it.
Reeves knows how to spin a good yarn, and his characters spring to life from every page. But it’s the writing that takes your breath away. So elegant, so assured, it marks the arrival of a major new talent. There are more Leo Stanhope books on the way. I for one can’t wait.
Raven Books, £12.99