The Darker Arts by Oscar de Muriel – review

Published by Orion

Publication date – 20 February 2020

Source – review copy

Madame Katerina, Detective ‘Nine Nails’ McGray’s most trusted clairvoyant, hosts a séance for three of Edinburgh’s wealthiest families.

The following morning everyone is found dead, with Madame Katerina being the only survivor. When questioned she alleges a tormented spirit killed the families for revenge.

McGray, even though he believes her, must find a rational explanation that holds up in court, else Katerina will be sentenced to death.

Inspector Ian Frey is summoned to help, which turns out to be difficult as he is still dealing with the loss of his uncle, and has developed a form of post-traumatic stress (not yet identified in the 19th century).

This seems an impossible puzzle. Either something truly supernatural has occurred – or a fiendishly clever plot is covering a killer’s tracks…

Seven people take part in a séance but only one of them is found alive the next morning. Madame Katerina, who hosted the séance  is accused of murdering the other participants. It’s up to Detective “Nine-nails” McGray and his Inspector Ian Frey to discover what really happened in that room, before it’s too late for Madam Katerina.

Nine-nails feels he owes Madam Katerina. She has helped him since his sister was institutionalised and hopes she can guide him to find a cure for his sister’s declared madness. He travels to England to fetch a reluctant Frey to assist him. Once back in Edinburgh the pair find that the victims all had something to hide, and that the truth may lay with their shared relative, Grannie Alice.

McGray is impetuous, unthinking and fuelled by greasy food, alcohol and rage. He clings to his believes regarding spirits and the afterlife in the hope that it will bring about some cure for his sister’s mental illness. Frey is more circumspect, practical and whilst he tries to rein in McGray, he too can be quick to anger if necessary. He is struggling with the death of his uncle, which keeps him from sleeping and affects how he views the case.

This is the first book I have read in the series but it did not spoil my enjoyment by not being familiar with already established characters. Each one was clearly defined and introduced in a way brings them to life for new readers and wouldn’t frustrate those already familiar with the series.

The mystery itself is engaging. How did 6 people die without an apparent cause? If it wasn’t Madam Katerina then who was to blame? There is also a great sense of location. I could almost imagine 19th century Edinburgh, the old dank prison and police station, the bawdy pubs and cold basement office of the duo.

A fun, intriguing mystery featuring a great pair of investigators.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Sounds very entertaining – particularly the setting! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      I loved the setting. Though for some reason I imagined it rainy and foggy all the time 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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