Perry takes an odd assortment of characters through the twisted alleys of London's underworld, where class distinctions are blurred by the smoke of opium pipes and the sale of every kind of depravity known to man. When James Wentworth requests the assistance of his friend, Harry Rathbone, in locating his dissolute son, Lucien, from the sure self-destruction of his vices, it is but ten days until Christmas. A gentleman of some refinement, Rathbone turns to Hester Monk's medical clinic for suggestions on how best to conduct his search. The clinic visit yields the scrappy Squeaky Robinson, a former brothel-keeper, and an enigmatic slum doctor, Crow. The unlikely trio descends into the London's warren of tunnels, a cornucopia of perversions and drugs for anyone with the price of admission.
Perry's Victorian London shimmers with Christmas cheer in streets bedecked with sparkling lights, below a bleak network of alleys and tunnels where Lucien is lost among the bodies of those who seek oblivion. Bessie, a teenager familiar with this underground maze, joins the entourage searching for a man who doesn't want to be found. They hear talk of Sadie, a beautiful woman who sparkles with manic energy, captivating the distracted Lucien; and the Shadow Man, a dark figure who rules a kingdom of vice and addiction, who decides who will enter and who will leave, who is useful and who must die. In this brutal place, Lucien is the quarry, but Rathbone, Squeaky, Crow and Bessie are the prey of a monster who feeds on the confusion of innocents.
This is certainly an unusual Christmas mystery, but one that contrasts the two worlds of London society, the fancy homes and joyful celebrations of the wealthy and the damp, hopeless streets where poverty and crime coexist and depravity thrives unchecked. Three eccentric personalities- and Bessie- make for an interesting adventure, class, experience and skill reduced to a common denominator, humanity. An unlikely group, joined in common goal. Luan Gaines/2010.