The Second Woman
Orion Hbk £18.99
Released: 15th April 2010
Reviewer: Judith Cutler
Judith Cutler is the author of several popular series featuring feisty women detectives, though her protagonists now include a nineteenth century parson (Keeper of Secrets and Shadow of the Past). Since her first novel was published in 1995 she has since gone on to write nearly thirty more. Her latest, Staging Death, is published by Allison & Busby. Her website is www.judithcutler.co.uk
Set in 1903, this is the
third in a series featuring Denton, an American writer – almost an
innocent Henry Jamesian character of exquisite moral sensibilities
enisled in the corrupt Old Europe – who is not quite at ease in any of
the social milieus in which he finds himself, whether country house
shoots or the home of his mistress, Janet Striker, a woman with an
awkward past. In the garden between their two (separate) houses, Striker
finds the body of a woman. Had Striker not connived with a doctor to
obtain an illegal abortion for her, everything would be much simpler,
but Denton’s attempts to identify the woman, not to mention discover who
killed her, since Scotland Yard’s murder is abruptly terminated by
mysterious British secret agents, are hampered in his constant need to
lie to keep her out of jail.
He is not the only one lying, of course. Some people are lying because they have an anti-Semitic desire to keep Britain pure, others because they may look like refugees from progroms but are in fact anarchists whose intentions may be as personal as they are political. Plotting and search alike become labyrinthine, Denton hindered as much as he is helped by the unpleasant inventions of car and telephone.
There is no doubting the huge amount of research behind this novel, but unlike some historical novelists Cameron does not seem to carry his learning easily. There are moments where a nugget of recondite information seems to be lit up in flashing lights, saying Look at me! At others, Americanisms apart, the language is so odd that you almost think you are reading a novel in translation. These problems are all the more frustrating because there is so much to admire in the book.
A mixed and equivocal verdict, then. Henry James would be proud of me.
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