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February 21, 2021

Richard James's Bowman of the Yard Books 3 and 4 ~ a Series Review

by MK French

Richards James's Victorian mystery series Bowman of the Yard continues with books three and four. 

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The Body in the Trees by Richard James

The Body in the Trees
June 2020; Indie; 979-8654224408
ebook, print (215 pages); mystery
Sergeant Graves and Detective Inspector George Bowman are now in the village of Lanton, investigating a series of suicides that have strained the relationships between the villagers and the nearby Gypsy camp in the forest. Villagers look at the inspectors with suspicion, especially after Bowman sees his dead wife and Graves is endangered. Bowman's sanity is on the line, and it appears that a secret society will do just about anything to remain secret.

The Body in the Trees is the third book in the Bowman of the Yard series, following The Head In The Ice and The Devil In The Dock. Bowman isn't in a very good place at the beginning of the novel, visiting the Victorian equivalent of Twelve Step meetings at the Salvation Army and tremors in his hands when not drinking. He would've been fired if not for the low number of inspectors on the force and his skill in prior cases. Because of his erratic conduct, Sergeant Graves is essentially his babysitter.

In the time period of these novels, the Roma were referred to as travellers or Gypsies, and were treated even worse than they are now in Europe. The hanged man's son is also treated terribly, shunned by the village as bad luck while he knows of all their poor behavior when they appear god-fearing. A number of the villagers, especially those with a modicum of power, are distasteful and awful people, to the point that I was pulling faces as I read about them in the book. Most villagers don't have warm relationships with each other, even in a hardscrabble life, and a secret order meets at night with a sinister air.

We get to the bottom of the mystery by the end of the novel, and Bowman was steadily declining throughout the story. While justice is served at the end, he's still emotionally broken and he loses grip on himself. I feel sorry for him, because he tries so hard to get to the truth, and loses hold of himself in the process, and once again is swallowed up by the grief for his wife he carried with him.

Buy The Body in the Trees at Amazon
(The ebook is a free read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers and 99 cents for everyone else)

The Phantom in the Fog by Richard James

The Phantom in the Fog
November 2010; Indie; 979-8565816174
ebook, print (223 pages); mystery
In the Autumn of 1892, George Bowman was psychiatrically hospitalized. Elizabeth Morley, who had comforted him after his wife's death, tells him about a series of murders in London. Bowman calls upon Sergeant Graves to help him to look into the murders, but his new superior Detective Superintendant Callaghan instructs Graves to look into fraud at the Royal Armitage Bank. The two cases might be linked, however, so Bowman has to rely on his memory and a map of London to help his former colleagues while he's still hospitalized.

This is the fourth Bowman of the Yard novel. Features of prior novels show up as part of his "mania," where he ranted and raved. Dreams and near hallucinatory experiences made up this stay at the asylum; it's more likely that he had delirium tremens, a severe form of alcohol withdrawal. People can hallucinate, have drastic changes in vital signs, and there is a risk of death as well. The drugs given to him when he was kidnapped at the end of the prior book certainly didn't help matters, and could've worsened his DT's. Coupled with his grief, this sends him over the edge to attempt suicide. It doesn't succeed, but readers should be forewarned in case the prologue is triggering for them.

Inspector Hicks is completely on board with cutting corners and taking the easy way out to close cases so that good-looking stats could be published in the newspaper. Budget cuts also mean that poor Sergeant Graves is stuck going through twelve boxes of papers plus new data on his forgery case by himself, and is treated no better than a drudge by the Inspectors around him. The forgery case also has an element of a pyramid scheme, destined to collapse on itself.

Psychiatric care and use of an Alienist in the time period is much different from current psychiatric care. The galvanic treatment is different from modern ECT, and here is bringing back Bowman's memories of the past. That's not something that normally happens with such treatment, which they actually discuss in the text, but let's give it a pass for novel purposes. Once he makes the connections and passes them along to Graves, the conclusion of the book comes quickly and it's an exciting chase. I enjoyed how all the details came together, and it really is a team effort. I even felt sorry for some characters at the end, because they were put in difficult positions and made to see their flaws in a poor light. This is bound to have repercussions in future novels, and it'll be great to see how it all plays out.

Buy The Phantom in the Fog at Amazon
(The ebook is a free read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers)

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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  1. these sound great. i used ot watch the alienist when it was on tv. dont know if it is still around but i loved it
    sherry @ fundinmental