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Kill Devil and Water is the third novel by Andrew Pepper featuring the dubious character Pyke and indeed the books are called the Pyke mysteries. All are set in and around the middle of the 19th century and feature a former Bow street runner called Pyke, Pyke is strong willed, aggressive and sure of his moral correctness of his actions. In many ways he resembles a 19th century Jack Bauer, going around solving crimes by any means necessary without too much worry about consequences and correctness.
Kill Devil and Water
This novel continues on from the Captain Payne book in which Pyke at the end is put into prison for failure to pay his debts, he has also lost his wife 5 years earlier when she was killed during an investigation. He has a son who varies between idolatry and fear and no money. However, a former colleague of his from his days as a Bow street runner and now inspector in the new police force asks him to investigate the death of a woman. The police force is stretched at that moment because a lord of the realm has been found in bed with a dagger in his stomach, Pyke is sent out of the prison to find out about the death of his young woman.
The woman has been found mutilated and dumped in one of Londons most deprived areas, however, her clothing shows she was from at least a comfortable background. Pyke is soon on the case and discovers very quickly that the woman has just arrived from Jamaica and is a freed slave.
The case soon spins away from the simple death of a newly arrived slave to a look at the whole slave industry, using the case the author slips into analysing the last days of the slave trade and transports Pyke from London to the sugar plantations of Jamaica. The case of course opens up for him there but doesn't give the full story but we are informed about the vagaries of slavery and the plantations owners' new method for subjugating their former slaves.
Pyke through it all shows considerable courage, resourcefulness but also a tendency to violence; this is depicted in one harrowing scene where he stopped from kicking a man to death by the arrival of his son and nanny on the scene. The randomness and variety of the violence and the desire of the author to show Victorian England's darker side is a constant one, Pyke cannot for a moment be placed in the category of hero or even anti-hero. He is simply a man of his times, brutal, diffident and uses any means to solve the case, if that means beating up a reluctant witness then so be it.
This novel uses London and Jamaica not so much as dark and dank versus sunny and happy as two sides of the same coin of repression, colonisation and the word of the establishment. London is the centre of the novel but Jamaica the key, through both setting we discover more about the desires and wishes of the English in controlling their slaves and ultimately we discover a little bit more about this mysterious chaotic character Pyke who as yet has no first name.