Rating: 4 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
Summary Review The second in the inspector Raft mysteries still has great characterisation and vivid setting at its core but suffers from an overabundance of vagueness in the mystery plot.
Scotland Yard Inspector Philemon Raft arrives on the scene of a deadly fire in Whitechapel, only to find a much more sinister force at work, destroying lives with swift abandon – and a lunatic may help Raft capture the master criminal known only as “The Master.”
I really enjoyed the first book in the Inspector Raft series, Willing Flesh, reviewed here, and I was keen to read this second book. The story continues the relationship between Raft and his constable, the affable Freddie, whilst introducing us to a new mystery surrounding a set of fires in the Whitechapel area of London. These fires have all taken place in almost the exact spot where the victims of Jack the Ripper were discovered. Raft’s investigations lead him to a mysterious underground gentleman’s club. When a number of ripper copycat murders take place, Raft is convinced that the ripper is back, and he’s determined to stop him this time.
I’ve given this book four stars after debating with myself for quite a while. The parts that worked well for me, really were quite special. These included the excellent prose and the superb attention to detail in the setting. The rookeries of Whitechapel are vividly described, both in the place itself and the people who live there. This is no wallpaper history that looks at the past through rosy spectacles, but an honest and insightful rendering of the true poverty that people lived in during those times. I was particularly affected by the descriptions of the workhouse where men, women and children struggle to survive in a cold and harsh environment.
Another aspect which worked was the developing relationship between Raft and Freddie, and the way their characters are evolving as the series continues. Freddie especially is struggling to cope with some of the harder realities of his job, and yet Raft is also wrapped up in his own problems. This could have torn the two apart, but instead we see them trying to work through their issues. Raft is terribly fearful of losing Freddie and the most touching scenes between them were those where they each voiced their fears and turned to each other for strength and comfort. Raft’s past is something that we are beginning to be given more information about, but only hints at this stage, and I look forward to finding out more about the gaps he has in his memory. I was disappointed that Raft’s paranormal gifts, which were made so much of in the previous book, are effectively forgotten, except for a brief mention at the beginning, and I hope this will be picked up and examined more closely later in the series.
Having said all that, I did have some issues with this book which almost made me put it in the three stars. Firstly is the secondary plot which is a homage to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I read the book fully expecting that there would be an ultimate point to this sub-plot, but there wasn’t really. There’s a link between Raft and the character of John Gallant in this part of the story but nothing actually comes of this and is a rather large plot thread left flapping about at the end of the book. Perhaps this is going to be taken up and explored in subsequent books because otherwise I was left scratching my head over why so much page time had been allotted to a story which effectively goes nowhere.
Another issue is that parts of the story were just not explained well enough for my liking. An example of this are the various illusions that take place, especially the fire illusion and that of the sleeping Rennie. These just seem to have been accepted as ‘mysterious’ with no attempts to discover how the illusions were created or maintained. It irked me a little that I was just supposed to accept that someone could create the sight, sound and heat of fire from nothing.
Finally, there were some glaring errors in the continuity. Normally the odd typo doesn’t bother me in a book, but I was pulled from the story a few times which did annoy a little. One such error was that the fires which were supposed to have taken place on Hanbury Street, were suddenly in Harley Street for a page or two before going back to Hanbury Street. Another error was that several times the characters refer to an incident which happened ‘the other day’ when in fact it had only happened that morning. At each instance I had to stop reading and check to see whether it was me who had got confused. It wasn’t.
So as you can see, overall this was a mixed read for me. I think my problems with it were due to an excess of ideas and plot all crammed into the pages which led to too much vague references and not enough concrete evidence and hard facts. Even the discovery of the villain was done through far too supposition for my liking. Despite this, the writing really was excellent, the characters are all very nuanced, even down to the most minor and the setting was vivid and realistic. For those reasons I could happily recommend Rag and Bone, especially to those who have read the first book and, like me, are hungry for more of Raft and Freddie. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series when hopefully some of the issues I had with this book will be explained and resolved.