Book Review: Fierce Poison

Fierce Poison (Barker & Llewellyn #13)
by Will Thomas
Historical Mystery
304 pages
Expected publication date: April 12, 2022, by Minotaur Books

London, 1893

Though the team of Barker and Llewellyn have seen a lot of strange things in the past ten years, they’ve never had a client drop dead in their offices before. But that’s just what happens one day when Roland Fitzhugh, a newly minted Member of Parliament, walks in one morning and dies with little warning. After a brief investigation, Barker determines that Fitzhugh died of poisoning– specifically because of a cyanide-laced raspberry tart he had eaten on the way in. The murderer’s crimes are compounded by the death of an East End family, poisoned that very night. With the press having a field day over the Mad Pie Man, as they’ve begun to call the poisoner, Barker and Llewellyn are hired by former Prime Minister Gladstone to investigate the deaths and find the murderer before more people succumb. But no sooner have they been hired, than they find themselves under attack. Their butler is poisoned and vicious traps have been laid throughout their home. On the run, Barker and Llewellyn must use all their wits and investigative skills to find the killer before they and the people they love most fall prey to a poisoner’s traps.

Thirteen is considered to be an unlucky number, and in this thirteenth outing for private enquiry agents Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewellyn, it seems as though their luck might finally have run out. Poisoning doesn’t leave behind the sort of evidence that a knife or a gun might, and because the poisons used are readily available throughout the great city of London, it seems impossible that our intrepid heroes could find the killer among the millions who live there. But they pursue their suspects all the same, if only because there is little else they can do. They are targets themselves and cannot find peace or safety until they get to the bottom of the mystery.

And so they do. Llewellyn with his usual snark and storyteller’s flair, and Barker with his stoicism and eye for detail. And in typical fashion, Will Thomas weaves a tale in which both suspects and victims have more going on in their lives than meets the eye. While the overworked detectives of Scotland Yard tend to leap on the most obvious suspect, Barker takes his time– and his risks– to find the correct perpetrator. This has been his modus operandi throughout the series. Barker is slow and steady, but one always has the sense that there is far more going on behind those smoked spectacles than anyone thinks there is.

But time has passed for the detecting duo. Thirteen volumes and ten years on, Llewellyn knows things are changing He’s not the naive young pup that he was when Barker pulled him off the street and gave him a new lease on life. At every turn, he’s reminded that there are safer jobs out there for a young man with a wife and, one day perhaps, a family to raise. And while Barker is unflappable as ever, he’s not getting any younger. At nearly fifty years old, he can no longer go toe to toe with any young miscreant who wants to take him on in a fight.

Change is in the air for Barker and Llewellyn, but they are still in fine form, and if there is a flaw in Fierce Poison, it is that a major plot point that was brought to light in the final pages of Dance with Death (the twelfth book in the series) is absent from Fierce Poison. Surely it was at least in the backs of their minds, but neither Barker nor Llewellyn even mentions it– a strange oversight, if oversight it is, given where Llewellyn’s thoughts often turn in Fierce Poison.

Perhaps this absence can be forgiven, though, given the stresses they’re dealing with. It can’t be easy to think of past details when you have reason to fear that your next bite of food or sip of water might be your last.

But whatever changes are in store for Barker and Llewellyn, they remain true to form and character. Fierce Poison is a tense thrill-ride through Victorian London, filled with a wondrous variety of often unexpected characters who leap off the page and make the reader want to know more about them. And, as usual, this reader can’t wait for the next book.

Thank you to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for providing me with a free eARC in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Fierce Poison

  1. I am impressed with two things by this post:

    1) That you can so effectively write a meaningful review of a late-series book. I recognize mystery series tend to lack the connecting threads as deeply as, say, fantasy series, but I have always found it difficult to write reviews for books later in a series. Particularly #13! Though, I am sorry the plot points from the conclusion of the previous book didn’t carry over. How frustrating. Do you think it will come back in future books?

    2) That you have read thirteen Barker & Llewellyn novels! That’s commitment. And I love it.

  2. I’ve written enough reviews for this series at this point that I don’t find it difficult to write non-spoilery reviews for it. Plus, it’s a mystery series so it’s mostly a matter of not giving away whodunnit. I assume that plot point will come back at some point, as the characters it involves have showed up a time or two before. I’ve been reading this series since book two first came out, so keeping up with it isn’t a big deal nowadays. It’s just a matter of reading one book a year to get caught back up again!

  3. In conjunction with Jackie B’s comments, I’m also impressed and happy to see a series this long that keeps you engaged and looking forward to the next installment.

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