London, 1852: the world's capital city of crime; a city where murder and hangings are public entertainment, where reporters and balladeers vie with one another to be first to the next grisly, exclusive revelation. Among the panoply of killers awaiting execution is Chokee Bill, whose stranglings have set the capital abuzz. One of the balladeers, Henry Owler, is determined to extract a true confession from the killer. However, Chokee Bill claims he is innocent and that the real Fiend is still on the loose. Owler, enlists the help of one of London's leading investigative journalists, Edmund Whitty of the Falcon, to help him to discover the real murderer before he strikes again. But fate has some other twists in store. The killer is closer than either one expects, close enough to touch in the fog bound streets. Is he a wraith of the imagination? Or is he the nightmare the public have dreamed and now made all too real? Is he The Fiend in Human Form?
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In The Fiend in Human, Edmund Whitty, a dissolute journalist, writes columns on grisly crimes and the latest public hangings for The Falcon, a muckraking tabloid in Victorian London. Whitty is addicted to a variety of potions: gin, snuff, laudanum and Acker's Chlorodine (opium, marijuana and cocaine in alcohol). His latest series focuses on William Ryan, whom he has dubbed Chokee Bill: murderer of five women, lover of the stately Mrs Marlowe and presently an inmate in Coldbath Fields prison awaiting his appointment with the noose. But when murders continue in Chokee Bill's signature style, Whitty must return to the streets to investigate.
A successful dramatist (Billy Bishop Goes to War), John MacLachlan Gray fills his novel with waggish Victorian-era dialogue, as in the exchange between Whitty and his editor:
"You make an appalling sight, Edmund. Consumptive and syphilitic at the same time."A pair of Oxford swells also plays an important role in this finely built novel, as well as a family from the lower orders that helps Whitty in his investigations of the slippery Ryan. Gray's depictions of seedy, contaminated London are enough to make the reader itch. Altogether, Gray has written a fine thriller that explores the power and limits of the press, as well as the depths of the human beast. --Mark Frutkin, Amazon.ca Review:
"In actual fact I have been contemplating the water cure--nothing like it to tone the system."
"Water would be a novelty in your system, I should think."
"London water is notorious. Gives you typhus."
"You'll use any excuse to deteriorate."
"Deterioration is relative. We all deteriorate."
"Not with your enthusiasm."
"A streetsmart period thriller brilliantly re-imagining Victorian London with great precision and a fine and mordant zest. Wonderfully engaging throughout. Bill Gibson" ( Bill Gibson)
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Book Description Arrow Books Ltd, 2004. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 99421453