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The Second Woman
by Kenneth Cameron

Release Date: 29th Apr 2010
Publisher: Orion
ISBN: 978 0 7528 9050 0
RRP: £12.99

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A murder mystery in historical London...

Set in the early 1900’s, The Second Woman is like an strange, exotic bird that at once seems familiar and yet flashing the occasionally alien flourish of feathers – pogroms, a judicial system that discriminates against Jews, manservants.. . Part murder mystery, part social commentary; it is a hard thing to narrow down into a one genre. What is immediately obvious is that the author has a definite target audience in mind: middle-aged men who have a particular fondness for brutish dialogue, disorientating characterisation and a subversive plotline. Failure to fall into that demographic may not put you at a disadvantage when reading The Second Woman, but will almost certainly make it less engaging.

From squalid public houses to posh country residences of the country’s most influential citizens, our American alien, Denton, stumbles along blithely ignorant of social niceties or otherwise dismissive of them. Denton is of indeterminate age, but certainly having seen some considerable years. Bulwark to his lover, Mrs Striker, erstwhile prostitute and inmate to an asylum, now homeowner and semi-respectable; Denton is somewhat of an enigma, whether intentional or not. In The Second Woman, Denton is forced into investigating the death of a strange woman – partly because her semi-naked dead body is found in his garden, her clothes arranged neatly inside his house; partly because his troublesome Janet Striker fears that she may have incriminated herself and partly because he appears to be the nosey type who cannot let things lie.

There’s a lot of pondering and pacing, the odd fisticuffs and runs-ins with disreputable sorts, the odd glimmer of a sinister underground organisation that could be the initial machinations of the British Secret Service and the occasional offhand commentary about the sexual antics of Denton and his Mrs Striker. The murder remains for the most part at the forefront of the storyline, even if it does suffer by being kept behind a fog of non-identity for far too long. Cameron’s style is an acquired taste – some see caviar, others see fish eggs. It’s all a matter of perspective. Personally, I find his writing a little too curt; too evasive; too meandering to really grab my attention and keep it. But if your fascination lies in the evocation of a bygone era: a time of top hats and tails, morning suits and mind-boggling social etiquette – Cameron certainly conjures up a remarkably vivid depiction.


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