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Death in Hellfire - Deryn Lake

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Author: Deryn Lake / Genre: Crime / Thriller / Publisher: Allison & Busby

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      23.03.2008 20:51
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      An entertaining historical read with murder thrown in for good measure

      John Rawlings, an apothecary in eighteenth century London, is set a task by John Fielding, the founder of the Bow Street Runners, which involves the investigation of a gentleman's club. This club, frequented by members of the upper classes, has a reputation for organising orgies. Rawlings is lucky enough to attend one of the gatherings, but apart from sexual excess, can find nothing terribly wrong until one of the clubs' members is found dead, apparently poisoned to death. This incident is followed by another murder. Can Rawlings find out what is going on before someone else dies?

      I began this book with trepidation; I like crime fiction and I like historical fiction, but I tend to find the two combined to be less than entertaining. Set in Georgian England, a period I know absolutely nothing about, made it seem even less desirable. However, once I started reading, I found the setting to be fascinating, brought to life with skill by the author, and with a good plot stirred into the mix, I was soon deeply engrossed.

      John Rawlings is the sort of man that I would usually heartily dislike, because he has a somewhat lacksadaisical attitude towards sex and women. However, apart from this flaw, he comes across as being a very pleasant man with an interest in what goes on around him and a deep love for his daughter and adopted father. John Rawlings has featured in other books by this author and we are given a potted explanation of his past life, including the murder of his wife, which further enlightens the reader and helped develop his character. His relationship with his best friend, Samuel Swann, allows us to see a goofier side to him, which softens the sadness he feels at the ending of a relationship with the beautiful Elizabeth. By the end of the book, I was hooked on Rawlings as a character and look forward to catching up with him in other books.

      There is a fair amount of sex in this book, with descriptions of orgies and lascivious women, not a factor that particularly appeals to me in this genre. Luckily, the descriptions are not too graphic, so I was able to skip through them fairly quickly in order to get on with the details of the plot itself. The plot is strong, gallops along at a fair pace and is very absorbing, although the ending, when it came, wasn't quite as exciting as I would have liked. The fact that the characters of John Rawlings and John Fielding are based on their real counterparts makes the story seem that little bit more believable.

      Historical novels are often accompanied by the language of the time, regardless of when they were written and this can sometimes seem pretentious when read in modern times. In this book, the author has clearly decided to keep this to a bare minimum, which I think is a good decision for this genre - it would otherwise have distracted me from the storyline. It is enough that the story is set in a time period that is alien to me.

      I really did enjoy this book, although I think that it is the character of John Rawlings that appealed to me rather than the plot itself. There is nothing desperately wrong with the plot, although I think that the ending could have been a little stronger, but I found myself more interested in John, his background and his future than I did in who the murderer was. I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys crime fiction, particularly if you like it with a historical background.

      The hardback version of the book is available from play.com for £14.99. It is published by Allison & Busby, ISBN: 9780749080761

      This review was written by me and first published on thebookbag.com. It will also be published on other review sites.

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    • Product Details

      When John Rawlings is asked to investigate a secret club and some shady goings-on, he is intrigued. The disreputable Sir Francis Dashwood is believed to be involved, as well as some illustrious members of the British aristocracy. In disguise and accompanied by the ungainly Sam Swann, John befriends Sir Dashwood and gains access to his home and family, including someone from John's past, someone whose exceptional beauty still hypnotises him. However, evil lurks in hidden corners of Sir Dashwood's opulent home and there seems to be a sinister element behind the infamous Hellfire Club's debaucheries. Is John putting himself and Sam in danger by trying to find out the truth?