by Will Thomas
Published Oct. 3rd, 2017
From Goodreads: When a Japanese diplomat is murdered, and Cyrus Barker is the prime suspect, Barker and sidekick Llewelyn must work against the clock to find the real killer.
In London of 1890, the first Japanese diplomatic delegation arrives in London to open an embassy in London. Cyrus Barker, private enquiry agent and occasional agent for the Foreign Service Office, is enlisted to display his personal Japanese garden to the visiting dignitaries.
Later that night, Ambassador Toda is shot and killed in his office and Cyrus Barker is discovered across the street, watching the very same office, in possession of a revolver with one spent cartridge.
Arrested by the Special Branch for the crime, Barker is vigorously interrogated and finally released due to the intervention of his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, and his solicitor. With the London constabulary still convinced of his guilt, Barker is hired by the new Japanese ambassador to find the real murderer.
In a case that takes leads Barker and Llewelyn deep into parts of London’s underworld, on paths that lead deep into Barker’s own mysterious personal history, Old Scores is the finest yet in Will Thomas’s critically acclaimed series.
The summary of a new volume of a series always seems to state that the book ‘…is the finest yet….’ of said series, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes a particular volume falls flat, but the blurb will somehow state that it’s a phenomenal success.
In the case of Old Scores, though, it really is the best of the series so far. With most mysteries, if you can guess early on who the killer is, it might kill your interest in the rest of the book. I mean, if you’ve figured out that X is the murderer on page 126, and then every single clue from then on confirms that notion, then the book probably hasn’t lived up to your expectations of what a good mystery entails.
And while Barker guesses the identity of the killer fairly early on in Old Scores, the story is not entirely about finding him/her. As the title indicates, Cyrus Barker has a history full of secrets and old scores to settle. He knows who did it, but he wants more than a simple confession as he fights to keep his past from overwhelming himself and the investigation.
Thomas Llewellyn, on the other hand, is looking toward the future and contemplating his next steps- as a full partner in the agency, and perhaps as a husband. He’s done a lot of growing up since we were first introduced to the desperate and naive Welsh boy of the first book, but while Thomas has grown more worldly he hasn’t lost any of the wit and charm he’s had from the beginning.
One of the things I most enjoy about the Barker and Llewellyn mysteries is how Will Thomas incorporates the different cultures and ethnicities that existed in London in the late Victorian era. While other Victorian-era mysteries might dwell on the murder of Lord Such-and-Such, Thomas’s heroes investigate the untimely deaths of people who were largely overlooked by the London police force of the time- a poor Jewish schoolteacher; an Italian criminal; a Chinese clerk. In Cyrus Barker’s view, none of these people were minor. They all deserved justice. And that’s the mindset that he passes on to his assistant, Thomas. Barker’s tolerance and acceptance of all people is central to these books.
As such, it’s helpful to have a knowledge of different cultures when you’re trying to figure out whodunnit, or else you’ll be as baffled as Llewellyn often is during the investigations. But whether that knowledge– or lack thereof– aids in the suspense is up to the reader. For example: I have a few thimblefuls of knowledge about Japanese history and culture, and this bit of knowledge helped me figure out what was going to happen in the last few chapters. Llewellyn was completely in the dark. I still found the set-up to be suspenseful and was glued in place until I’d finished the book. Would someone without that knowledge have found those chapters as suspenseful? I imagine so.
I first found this series just after the second book, To Kingdom Come, was released. I always look forward to a new entry in the series, and although I read them quickly and don’t always take the time to savor the minute details, I’m not bothered by it. The Barker and Llewellyn books are ones that I can read over and over again and never tire of. They are funny and smart, full of interesting side characters with full lives of their own, and maintain a modern sense of tolerance without losing the Victorian feel. If you are a fan of mysteries or of books set in Victorian era, then check out the Barker and Llewellyn novels. You won’t be disappointed.