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The Bedlam Detective    by Stephen Gallagher order for
Bedlam Detective
by Stephen Gallagher
Order:  USA  Can
Broadway, 2013 (2012)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

There's a tinge of horror to Stephen Gallagher's historical mystery starring The Bedlam Detective, Sebastian Becker. It's set in 1912 England, where Becker investigates luncay in high places. He had previously worked for Pinkerton in America, but has moved to England in search of help for his eighteen-year-old son Robert, who has a brilliant mind but is well outside the social norm. Sebastian's wife Elizabeth works at a local hospital and her unmarried sister Frances lives with them.

Becker works out of Bethlehem Hospital, but spends as little time there as possible. He acts as a special investigator to the Masters of Lunacy, and his current assignment is Sir Owain Lancaster. After a disastrous Amazon expedition, in which almost everyone perished (including Lancaster's wife and son), Sir Owain wrote a disturbing book ('a fantasy of the most extreme order') and gave a bizarre Royal Society lecture that ruined his scientific reputation. He wrote and spoke of constant attack by monsters.

As the novel opens, Becker travels by train to the onetime fishing village of Arnmouth in the West Country. On arrival, he learns that two girls have gone missing and joins a search party ... which finds their corpses. Becker consults with young detective sergeant Stephen Reed on the case, and fills him in on Sir Owain's questionable sanity. Over time there have been a series of deaths and disappearances in parishes adjoining Sir Owain's estate. Also, during Reed's childhood, two of his schoolmates were kidnapped and raped, but claim no memory of what happened.

One of them, Evangeline Bancroft, is a suffragette, who truly has amnesia and is looking for answers. She knows that what happened has tainted her life, leaving her afraid of intimacy. Though a tinker is quickly arrested for the 1912 murders, Becker and Reed continue to focus on Sir Owain, and follow up with Evangeline on the earlier case. She and Becker also talk to a survivor of the Amazon expedition, now locked up in a hospital for the criminally insane.

The case seems to be moving in a very clear direction, but of course it's never that simple and Gallagher tosses in some surprises in the violent crescendo of an ending. But, don't just read this one for the mystery (though it's a good one). The novel takes readers deep into fascinating aspects of early 1900s England, from the suffragette movement to the early film industry, and treatment of the insane. Don't miss The Bedlam Detective.

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