In Some Danger Involved, author Will Thomasplunges us into the roiling waters of anti-Semitism in 19th-century London. The British capital has been a mecca for Jewish immigrants—Sephardic and Ashkenazy—for centuries, but growing economic unrest in the city is proportional to the rising hostility being stirred up by other immigrant groups and by a number of churches and others, against the close-knit Semitic community. When a young Jewish scholar with a remarkable resemblance to the Jesus Christ depicted in Renaissance paintings is found crucified in the middle of London’s Jewish ghetto, young Jews start arming themselves in preparation for a new pogrom and everyone girds for bloodshed.
Detective Cyrus Barker is hired by the wealthy Rothschilds to find the murderer before the city explodes into further violence, and in this debut novel by Thomas, we are introduced to Barker’s sidekick Thomas Llewelyn, the 22-year-old son of a Welsh coal miner who is also a widower, a former student of Oxford, and a starving ex-convict on the verge of committing suicide before he is brought into Barker’s employ. Barker himself is an exotic of the first order, a martial arts adept steeped in multiple languages and the classics who was raised in China, employs a Jewish butler, has a seemingly inexhaustible fortune and keeps a mysterious veiled widow hidden from view. As Barker and Llewelyn hustle around the city seeking clues and interviewing suspects–Jews and Gentiles, churchmen and rabbis, gangsters and scholars–the tensions rise and Llewelyn in particular escapes multiple near-death traps as the murderer closes in.
What makes the novel especially fascinating are the well-researched and clearly presented aspects of Judaism of the day. While some in the Jewish community are well-established and assimilated into British life, others are newly-arrived, impoverished, desperate, often radical. We meet early Zionists who seek a Jewish home in Palestine, Messianic Jews with their own interpretation of the Talmud; we also meet early proponents of the eugenicist movement who defined the Jews as a “lower species,” and a host of colorful characters who fill out both the upper crust and the underworld of London society. When a second body turns up, the pace escalates rapidly to an unexpected climax.
With his adept writing, insights into the period, and touch of humor in all the right places, Thomas has launched a series which promises to delight. Looking forward to reading others of his half-dozen novels to date.