Publisher: Raven Books
Publication Date – 3 May 2018
Prepare yourself for an extraordinary tale of love, life and murder in Victorian London, all with a unique twist that will make this book one of the most talked-about pieces of historical fiction this year.
In London, in 1880, Leo Stanhope is a bright young man living the city life. He is employed as an assistant to a London coroner and is in love with Maria, a high-class prostitute. However, Leo also has a big secret: he was actually born Charlotte. Born a woman, but knowing deep inside that he was a man, he ran away as a teenager and has been living as Leo ever since. Only a few trusted people know this, and Leo fears the day he’ll be discovered.
When Maria is found dead, Leo finds himself accused of her murder. With his life falling down around him, Leo starts his own investigation into the case. But what does Maria’s death have to do with another corpse found drowned in the river, and how do Maria’s rich employers and an infamous London abortionist fit into the case? Leo will risk everything to find Maria’s killers, even if that means revealing his biggest secret.
This is an outstanding debut from author Alex Reeve, who has created a fabulous addition to the historical crime genre. The House on Half Moon Street has massive potential to expand out into a fantastic and iconic new series.
Without a doubt, the most distinctive and memorable part of The House on Half Moon Street is the main character, Leo Stanhope, who is a transgender man. The first thing that needs to be mentioned is that Reeve has done a great job of writing this character and has produced an appropriate and non-controversial description of a transgender person. There is a lengthy examination of the protagonist’s views about his identity, which includes descriptions of his childhood, memories of how he has always felt this way and internal monologues on how uncomfortable he felt behaving as a woman. Reeve also does a fantastic job of portraying Leo’s fears and frustrations at the way he has to live and the way some characters, such as members of his family, treat him. Overall, this is an emotional and insightful examination of a transgender character in a historical setting, and Reeve has chosen an excellent protagonist for his novel.
The focus on a transgender main character and gender issues works well with Reeve’s great use of the Victorian setting, as he explores how transgender people lived in historical times. As described in the book, transgender individuals were not treated well within Victorian England. In one scene Leo describes how someone who was living in a similar situation to himself had recently been discovered by the authorities and institutionalised as a result. The views and responses of the people who discover his secret also reflect the attitudes of the time, although there are some obvious parallels with some modern opinions, resulting in thought-provoking social commentary. There are also some interesting descriptions of the techniques, tools and clothing that the protagonist uses to hide his female characteristics and make himself appear more masculine. Due to differences in technology and social expectations, these techniques are obviously different from modern alternatives and represent some interesting hypotheses from Reeve.
There are also some amazing descriptions of Victorian London, which serves as a great backdrop for this story. Not only does the dingy Victorian setting help to highlight Leo’s dark emotional state throughout the book; it is also the perfect background for a murder mystery that revolves around the murky criminal underworld.
On top of the compelling protagonist and the wonderful use of setting, those who read The House on Half Moon Street will also be treated to a top-notch murder mystery that also delves into the criminal and policing elements of 1880s London. The investigation into the deaths is an intense experience that takes the protagonist through a series of different suspects and clues, creating an intriguing and complex case. The emotional impact of the case on Leo is plainly obvious due to superb story narration, and this proves to be engaging to the reader, who becomes invested in solving the case. The final solution to the book’s mystery is very clever, and the readers will love how the case comes to its conclusion.
Historical fiction buffs will also enjoy the examination of law and order during the era, as Reeve examines several police institutions, including the work of the coroner during the time. The protagonist also encounters some of the city’s criminal elements, and there are some surprising crimes that are covered within the book. Reeve’s use of a transgender protagonist once again comes into play during the character’s investigations, and the reader will be drawn into the scenes where Leo attempts to hide his previous life from the police and criminals.
The House on Half Moon Street is a phenomenal new book that takes a deep and sensitive look at transgender issues in Victorian London whilst also making use of a dark and detailed historical setting and a first-rate overarching murder mystery.