I really liked the first three volumes of Jasper Kent’s The Danilov Quintet, which I consider to be a thinking man’s vampire hunter. The last two volumes haven’t been published in the US, so I’ve not read them yet. Emphasis on “yet”. You can read my reviews here, here, and here.
With Late Whitsun, Kent turns his attention to the historical mystery. Set in Brighton in 1938, the novel concerns Charlie Woolf. He’s a sometimes private investigator who earns a meager living by making sketches for the tourists.
When he’s approached by his former partner, Alan O’Connor, and asked to act as a courier, it’s a chance to earn some easy money. All he has to do is take an envelope to London and give it to a man by a certain bench in a certain park at a certain time.
Of course it’s not that easy. The envelope contains incriminating photos. The man he meets is wearing a gas mask. And when Charlie returns home, there’s a surprise waiting for him in his apartment.
And those are all of the details you’re going to get. There are several nice twists in this one. Charlie is an interesting narrator, one whose past and hangups are more hinted at than shown. This makes him intriguing. Kent doesn’t infodump Charlie’s backstory on us, but feeds us tidbits, making us want more. I particularly liked the part where Charlie has a lunch appointment with his mother but has to question a prostitute who is a witness; so he takes her to lunch and lets his mother think she’s his new girlfriend. His mother, or course, wants him to find “a nice girl.”
I found Late Whitsun to be a satisfying mystery. The setting was familiar enough that I didn’t have work too hard to get into it, but it was still exotic enough to be interesting. Brighton, in case you don’t know, is a seaside resort town. (It’s also where Jasper Kent is from, and while I found the amount of detail a good thing, a bit more explanation of the geography for those of us who aren’t familiar with it would have been nice. But I quibble.)
The spectre of WWII hovered over the book at times. That was one aspect of the gas mask angle, a couple of conversations about a government plan to distribute gas masks to British citizens in the event of war. And the government, or at least the government agent who shows up, expected there to be war. But that wasn’t the only reason for the gas masks. There are others, and not just because meeting a man you don’t know in a park at night to discover he’s wearing a gas mask is just plain creepy (in a good way for the reader, if not the person meeting the man in the gas mask).
I like a twisty tale, especially one full of mystery. Late Whitsun certainly meets that standard. Highly recommended. There are two more novels in this series slated to appear in the near future, and I’m looking forward to them.