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Book Review -- 'Old Scores'

Victorian Musings and Ripping Yarns

'Old Scores,' the latest in Will Thomas's Victorian mystery books about consulting detective and martial arts enthusiast Cyrus Barker, hits all the right notes for fans of this particular series. More casual readers may prefer starting with earlier novels in the series.

This volume, narrated by Barker's "Watson" Thomas Llewelyn, involves murder and intrigue surrounding the Japanese consulate in late 19th century London. Culture clash and elaborate games involving manners are juxtaposed with grittier elements such as interdepartmental rivalries among police and government agents as well as what is euphemistically referred to as"hard interrogation."

The characters remain likable and Thomas manages to blend a surprising amount of action with a reasonably engaging plot. But Thomas adds another layer to Barker, a protagonist with an almost absurdly elaborate past, by revealing that he spent a decisive period of his life in Japan -- suffice it to say, this plays a major part in the plot, which culminates in events that more astute readers will predict.

Barker, essentially a Sherlock Holmes-like character with a more action-oriented focus, is entertaining and would be perfect for films. But his backstory already includes time as a pirate in China (yes, he knows Kung Fu), contacts in the Sicilian Mafia and a rivalry with a Moriarty-like figure. How much more can be done with this character's past?

Anyone who enjoyed previous entries in this series should enjoy this one. I would steer newer readers toward 'The Limehouse Text' or 'The Black Hand.'

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