Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Sepulchre Street - Martin Edwards

It's been fun reading the two most recent Rachel Savernake books back to back over the last week - Sepulchre Street is probably my favourite to date; four books in the characters are developing nicely. I've also made the effort tonight and I'm writing this post with a Bloodhound cocktail in hand. If you're reading this series, partial to a cocktail, or interested in 1930s period detail I strongly recommend arming yourself with The Savoy Cocktail book. It could also probably stop a stray bullet as well being an excellent way to drink along with Rachel, Jacob, and the Trueman's.

Part of the pleasure of these books is in the details and references that Edwards sprinkles through them. The dedicated could find the scent (Caron's Narcisse Noir) that a particular Femme Fatale makes her signature, and of course the Chanel (I think No5) that another character favours. It's the appropriate cocktails that really appeal to me though - the Corpse Reviver, Bosom Caresser, and Bloodhound all get a mention this time - as does Harry Craddock's famous cocktail book. The Bloodhound was the easiest of the three for me to make as I had at least an approximation of all the ingredients, so even though my notes from the last time I attempted it said 'Not worth the effort' I tried again.

Turns out the secret is probably in the proper crushing of 3 to 4 small strawberries, and in this case using an early grey flavoured gin (60ml) along with 30ml of dry white French vermouth and 30ml of Dubonnet though it should properly be sweet red Italian Vermouth, all shaken well over ice and strained into a coupe. Or maybe I'm just in the right mood tonight - either way, it's hitting the spot. 

'Sepulchre Street' keeps the gothic mood of the series - the action opens in the Hades club where the surrealist artist Damaris Gethan is staging a private viewing of her latest work after an absence from the art scene of almost two years. Damiris wants Rachel to solve her murder, minutes later she takes her own life with a specially rigged guillotine. 

For clues, Rachel has the guest list - once the critics and the gallery owners are discounted there are 6 oddly assorted guests including herself and Jacob Flint. How are the others linked and what did they do? Jacob is following his own lead and pursuing Kiki de Villiers (Narcisse Noir wearing Femme Fatale rumoured to be seeing someone Very Important) desperate to warn her of danger. 

There's a lot going on in here with all sorts of twists and turns, some interesting hints for future directions the series might take, as many easter eggs as a dedicated classic crime fan could hope for, and a host of other fun references to chase up. It's no easy thing to build a convincing past but I think Edwards does a really good job of it. It's his obvious knowledge of and affection for Golden Age crime that makes it work for me, coupled with a cast of characters who are neither self-consciously old fashioned, or entirely modern but stuck in fancy dress.

Add the gothic atmosphere (John Dickson Carr would be proud) and character development to the other elements here and it's a hard to beat series.  

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