Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #81: The Limehouse Text by Will Thomas
This is my first encounter with author Will Thomas, and he has a deceptively easy writing style which perfectly complements the sophistication of his Victorian-age mystery tale. The Limehouse Text refers to a mysterious little book written in Chinese which is floating around the gritty Chinatown district of London, known as Limehouse, leaving a trail of bodies in its wake. Thomas’ novel is centered around a “private enquiry” detective named Cyrus Barker and his young assistant Thomas Llewelyn, from whose viewpoint the story is narrated. Barker is an imposing figure, trained in martial arts and fluent in Chinese, having lived– and fought—in that country for a number of years. He also has both a seemingly inexhaustible fortune and a power of deductive reasoning to rival the more familiar Sherlock Holmes. Which I guess makes Llewelyn his Dr. Watson.
Barker is on the trail of the killer of his former personal assistant, Llewelyn’s predecessor, and it leads right to the missing Limehouse Text, which makes him and Llewelyn the targets of a delightful cast of villains, ranging from a racist agent of the British Foreign Office, to the mysterious head of the triads in Limehouse and his opposing number among the non-Chinese gangs, to a Chinese eunuch, and even to a beautiful gypsy lady. In between, we meet salty sailors, veiled widows, tattooed Chinese giants and bespectacled Chinese medicine men. The characters may sound like stereotypes, but in fact they are lovingly developed and have their own unique backstories.
The sought-after text is the catalyst for the story, but the plot has a number of subplots—even a romantic moment or two–that give this novel its depth. Despite the many twists and turns, the story holds together surprisingly well as the author brings Victorian London and his amazing cast of characters to life with humor and in exquisite detail, whether it is the ingredients of an amazing “hot pot” meal in an underground tea room, a colorful acupuncture session in the back room of an aged Chinese practitioner, or a terrifying fight to the death in an illegal boxing ring.