For my “New-to-Me-Author challenge I picked Jess Faraday’s first novel, The Affair of the Porcelain Dog, published by Bold Strokes Books in 2011, and it was a fun but exhausting romp through Victorian London streets. Fasten your seat belts, this is going to get complicated!
Set in 1889 London, this is the adventure of young Ira Adler, former prostitute and, for the last two years, lover-assistant to Cain Goddard. In one persona Goddard is a powerful and wealthy crime lord, the dreaded Duke of Dorset Street, in the other a night lecturer at King’s College with painfully unfulfilled academic ambitions.
As the story opens, Goddard is being blackmailed. Letters written in lavender ink threaten to expose his homosexuality. He charges Ira to retrieve a black porcelain dog, which contains the blackmailer’s proof. Since Ira has street skills, including burglary, this seems like a simple assignment. Ira takes his lock-picking tools and heads out into the night.
That’s when he meets his tormented ex-lover Dr. Tim Lazarus, who also wants the porcelain dog. They fight for it, Ira seizes it and escapes, only to have the dog stolen from him by a mysterious Chinese woman posing as a prostitute. Then things get really complicated, making the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens look simple as Danish modern furniture.
There follows a desperate hunt involving opium trade and child trafficking, financial skullduggery with multiple sets of ledgers, old animosities, a treacherous butler, extravagantly expensive rings, a martial arts school, the British occupation of Afghanistan, good doctors and bad doctors, altruistic anarchists, arson and explosions, heroism, exotic poisons derived from snake venom, and, of course, murder.
Faraday’s writing is strong, and the dangerously complex plot meticulously constructed. Her handling of detail is evocative, rather than finicky, so the story doesn’t bog down. The pacing in the first part of the book was a bit slow for me, but somehow it fit the Victorian setting. The story certainly sped up as it went along, until there was more happening than I could keep track of easily. There were more threads than usual to pull together in the action climax. Those scenes came across a little ragged to me, simply from a logistical standpoint, although certainly not enough to diminish my enjoyment.
So all in all, a very strong first novel. If you enjoy engaging Victorian mysteries and complex plots with colorful, devious characters, Jess Faraday’s Porcelain Dog should be right up your dark London alley.
This review is part of our September Reading Challenge Month for New-to-Me Author Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win this week’s fabulous prize sponsored by Samhain Publishing, as well as our amazing grand prize sponsored by Riptide Publishing. You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on New-to-Me Author week here. And be sure to check out our prize post for more about the awesome prizes!