The two countries had been forged into one, the Act of Union, described in The Times as a “delightful marriage” but viewed by many as nothing less than a rape. Emancipation for Catholics was promised but not given, rebellions were quelled with the gun. The Unionists vaguely talked of Repeal but only by legitimate means. But these moderates were the Old Men of Ireland with their aristocratic manners and respect for the Queen. Secret societies with names like The Oak Boys, The White Boys and Ribbonmen had long since gathered in the bogs and glens of Ireland plotting revenge, but now they had morphed into a hiss on the streets of St. Giles, Whitechapel, Soho, Southwark, Saffron Hill – a hiss of Gaelic – Fenians. – from The Devil’s Ribbon, page 26 –
Adolphus Hatton and his enthusiastic sidekick, Albert Roumande, are on the cutting edge of forensic science, working long hours in the morgue where poor Irish cholera victims arrive daily. When a well-known Irish political moderate shows up in the morgue brutally poisoned with a green ribbon stuffed in his mouth, Hatton and Roumande are eager to solve the case. But the bodies keep piling up – violent murders which are connected by more than the emerald ribbons found with their bodies. A tragic bombing on the anniversary of the Siege of Drogheda seems to point toward a terrorist priest and a group called the Ribbonmen. And then there is Inspector Jeremiah Gray who Hatton suspects of planting and hiding evidence and who seems to have ties to the first murder. Meanwhile Hatton tries not to be distracted by a beautiful Irish widow while he struggles to piece together the clues to solve the case.
Set in London in 1858 during a cholera epidemic, The Devil’s Ribbon is author D.E. Meredith’s second book in the Hatton and Roumande mystery series. The story centers around the difficulties between the Irish and the English with a focus on the Great Famine in Ireland when approximately 1 million Irish nationals died and a million more emigrated from Ireland between 1845 and 1852. This event was a watershed moment in the history of Ireland…and to this day there are debates as to whether or not the British government’s response to the crisis was an act of genocide. Meredith uses this historical event as a major backdrop to her novel…and it is fascinating.
The Devil’s Ribbon has a wonderful cast of characters whose dialogue rings true. Hatton and Roumande are a bit eccentric and definitely obsessive in their search for clues. I found the medical history part of the book fantastic. Forensic science was a relatively new way to solve crime in the nineteenth century. Fingerprinting was something that began to be developed as a way to link individuals to criminal activity in the 1880s – and Meredith brings this science into her novel as Hatton and Roumande struggle to lift prints from the crime scenes.
Investigator Gray is unlikable, but oddly compelling as a character – addicted to morphine, cruel in his treatment of suspects, and shadowed by a hulking Italian who does his every bidding, Gray intrigued me.
What seems to be a simple plot in the book becomes twisty at the end so that I read the last 75 pages without a break just to see how it would all turn out. Meredith also does an admirable job at recreating the mean streets of London, including dockside strikes, rampant drug use, and the squalor of the poorest of the poor.
I read this book quickly. It held my interest from the opening page until the end. Readers concerned about reading this book before the first book in the series (Devoured) need not worry – The Devil’s Ribbon can be read easily as a stand alone novel. The book is a good mix of historical fiction and dark mystery. Readers who enjoy both those genres will find this a satisfying read.
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