In the foggy, gaslit streets of London, 1885, William Pinkerton of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency has arrived from Chicago. The dark, hulking Pinkerton has not come on official business, but rather to track down his father’s old nemesis, Edward Shade. Although Pinkerton senior, also a detective, is known for getting his man, Shade has eluded him for decades.
Pinkerton’s information is that an old associate of Shade’s can be found in London. Charlotte Reckitt is of questionable character, and she does her best to evade Pinkerton. But when she turns up dead, Pinkerton gets involved with the case through his contacts at Scotland Yard.
Enter Adam Foole, a former love interest of Reckitt’s and a grifter himself. Foole is a gentleman with a knack for disguises. He steals through wit, intelligence and careful planning, and rejects violence as a means to an end. Still, his team is made up of Fludd, the protector (a.k.a. “the giant”), and Molly, a young girl with a checkered past whom he has taken in off he streets.
Much to his colleagues’ chagrin, Foole teams up with Pinkerton in a desperate attempt to find Charlotte’s killer. The unlikely pair make their way through the dank, dangerous and often gruesome streets of London, venturing into the back-alley bars and even the sewers to find a lead. Pinkerton begins to trust Foole, and the two respect each other. But Foole holds secrets that eventually throw Pinkerton into a tailspin, totally upending his beliefs about his father and his search for Edward Shade.
Author Steven Price drew me in right away with a riveting mystery set in a very believable historic London. Keep in mind, By Gaslight is not a book for the faint of heart. It is a grim mystery that mostly takes place in the parts of London that are rife with poverty and struggle. But it also reads like an epic, moving back and forth through time and history, and bringing all the characters together for its thrilling conclusion.