Magazine article The Spectator

'The Infidel Stain', by M.J. Carter - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Infidel Stain', by M.J. Carter - Review

Article excerpt

The Infidel Stain M.J. Carter

Fig Tree, pp.355, £14.99, ISBN: 9780241146255

Historical fiction is sometimes accused of being remote from modern concerns, a flight towards nostalgia and fantasy. It's not an accusation you can reasonably level at M.J.Carter's historical crime novels. The first, The Strangler Vine , was set in an unsettling version of colonial India. Its sequel, The Infidel Stain , takes place three years later in 1841, in a London that Dickens would have recognised. The story follows the subsequent careers of her two main characters -- the louche and mysterious Jeremiah Blake and his far more respectable young friend Captain William Avery, now retired from the East India Company's army.

Blake is making his living as an inquiry agent. Viscount Allington, a politician whose evangelical outlook is clearly modelled on Lord Shaftsbury's, hires him to look into the deaths of two printers. Blake recruits the assistance of Avery, now married, bored and living in genteel obscurity in the West Country.

It soon becomes clear that the printers were not wholly respectable, and that their stock-in-trade included pornography. They have connections to the widespread political discontent of the country: not just the respectable Anti-Corn-Law league but the Chartists, whose radical demands and working-class roots lead the authorities to suspect them of fomenting revolution.

Avery serves as the narrator, the Watson to Blake's Holmes. …

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