Dance with Death
reviewed by Nolan Yard
A royal wedding is about to take place in the heart of Victorian London. One of its guests will be an assassin. Their reputations on the line, can detectives Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn track down the killer before it’s too late? This is the question that lies at the heart of this mystery-thriller hybrid, Dance with Death by Will Thomas.
While I have not read any of the first twelve books in the series, Will Thomas’s thirteenth installment of his Barker and Llewelyn duo is welcoming. Though there are mentions and connections of prior cases, they are not essential to engagement. The author makes it seem as if Barker and Llewellyn, stern Scot and genial Welshman, are as old friends to the reader.
The two detectives run a private inquiry agency and are tasked by a man named Jim Hercules, an anomalous guard of tsarevich Nicholas, heir to ruler of Russia. Jim is amongst Nicholas’s retinue during the tsarevich’s visit to London for his friend Prince George the Duke of York’s royal wedding. It is rumored Queen Victoria plans for Nicholas to marry her favorite granddaughter. All the while, bodyguard Jim fears an assassin is out for the Russian prince.
Barker and Llewellyn navigate London’s royal halls, hidden tunnels, perilous slums, and capacious parks to unmask the hired executioner. They sift through all manner of suspect groups—socialists, Marxists, anarchists, even Russian aristocracy and the tsarevich’s secret police traveling in tow, the Okhrana. Full of twists, turns, and historical figures from Karl Marx’s daughter Eleanor, leader of London’s Socialist League, to William Morris and Prince Georges (there are two), the book is a thrilling and intriguing ride. Dance with Death possesses the milieu, mystery, and suspense akin to the Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch, The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason, and Bonnie MacBird’s Sherlock pastiches.
The reader would anticipate author Will Thomas to be a librarian of Oxford or Cambridge, Edinburgh or Cardiff for that matter, rather than from Oklahoma. His knowledge and execution of Victorian times, players, mores, and language are commendable. Moreover, the dramatis personae is well-wrought. Barker is a quick-thinking veteran, and younger Llewelyn matches the angst in getting to the center of it all.
Thomas populates his novel with robust female characters. Llewelyn’s wife Rebecca, rival detective Ms. Fletcher, and the tsarevich’s mistress Mathilde do not merely inhabit the page, but splash it with vibrancy, resplendency, and panache. Further, royal intrigue abounds astride mystery and thrills. The detectives confer with the Queen’s Guards, the Home Office, ambassadors, royal servants, diplomats, and the royals themselves. The reader is whisked to gardens, to Kensington Palace, to balls and weddings. The countermelody to this beguiling traipse looms in the form of an assassin with a rifle in shadow.