Title: The Daemoniac
Series Title: Dominion Mysteries
Author: Kat Ross
Date Added: October 13, 2016
Date Started: September 28, 2017
Date Finished: October 25, 2017
Reading Duration: 27 days
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction
It’s August of 1888, just three weeks before Jack the Ripper will begin his grisly spree in the London slum of Whitechapel, and another serial murderer is stalking the gas-lit streets of New York. With taunting messages in backwards Latin left at the crime scenes and even more inexplicable clues like the fingerprints that appear to have been burned into one victim’s throat, his handiwork bears all the hallmarks of a demonic possession.
But consulting detective Harrison Fearing Pell is convinced her quarry is a man of flesh and blood. Encouraged by her uncle, Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry hopes to make her reputation by solving the bizarre case before the man the press has dubbed Mr. Hyde strikes again.
From the squalor of the Five Points to the high-class gambling dens of the Tenderloin and the glittering mansions of Fifth Avenue, Harry and her best friend, John Weston, follow the trail of a remorseless killer, uncovering a few embarrassing secrets of New York’s richest High Society families along the way. Are the murders a case of black magic—or simple blackmail? And will the trail lead them closer to home than they ever imagined?
I believe change is coming, and we can either get out of the way, or be knocked down flat.
Harrison Fearing Pell is a consulting detective in this Sherlock Holmes inspired mystery where she isn’t even the Holmes analogue, her more famous sister Myrtle is, but the older Pell is away on business, and the game is afoot.
The author did a fantastic job differentiating this not only from the Sherlock Holmes stories (which…I’ll be honest, I haven’t read, so I might be completely talking out of my ass), but also from mysteries in the same vein. Cleverly weaving more Sherlockian lore into the narrative with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the uncle of the Harry and Myrtle. So while The Daemoniac is inspired Sir Arthur’s work, in the narrative the famous mystery writer is inspired by his nieces. There’s also a similar dynamic between the Pell sisters and the Holmes’ brothers (at least from what I’ve seen on the modern BBC version) with some virulent competition that unfortunately crossed over into bullying with the younger Harry as the victim.
Each character is well written and individual, and Ross clearly loves to play with names and words, having Harry’s best friend and co-conspirator be a John Weston to Sherlock’s John Watson. I was a little annoyed that Ross choose to have a very common trope involving male and female friends with them, and I wish she’d omitted it, since it kind of makes John come off as an ass in some regards.
However, I do have to give her credit for handling race in the best possible way. I was initially wary, because there were mentions of black servants at one point, but this is 1800’s New York City. What Ross does that’s so brilliant is not an attempt at revisionism, which would lay a false narrative, but rather she has enlightened main characters. Now this can be dangerous territory, too, because you can push it too far and have people acting way ahead of their time, but their attitudes made perfect sense for their personalities. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for a female detective, who needs to finagle her way into a gentlemen’s club because there are no women allowed, to be ahead of her era due to what she herself as experienced, and she’d surround herself with like-minded folks. It’s obviously not guaranteed, but the presentation was believable.
I did eventually have some trouble keeping certain characters straight, and while the end was well-explained and satisfying, I struggled to remember the extent of James Moran’s notoriety, which is a shame, since he’s clearly supposed to represent Sherlock’s arch-nemesis Moriarity.
Ross only made her main character and sibling female; she didn’t flip the genders of anyone else. I am curious whether or not this tale is parallel to any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, and it will be interesting to pick up specific elements Ross used when I finally read the originals.