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The Limehouse Text    by Will Thomas order for
Limehouse Text
by Will Thomas
Order:  USA  Can
Touchstone, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

It is early February in 1885, and the narrator of The Limehouse Text, Thomas Llewelyn, has been employed for nearly a year by Cyrus Barker, London's singularly resourceful private enquiry agent. Previously seen by readers in Will Thomas's Some Danger Involved and To Kingdom Come, this memorable detective and his assistant now find themselves involved in one of their most dangerous and baffling cases.

Barker's previous assistant, Quong, had been murdered a year earlier, and his body had been found floating in the tidal waters near London's Limehouse district, 'the Oriental quarter of town.' At that time, Barker - the taciturn Scotsman who had twenty years earlier seen combat in China's Taiping Rebellion, the martial arts expert who uses razor-sharp pennies as weapons, the man-about-town who has a special fondness for a mysterious woman, first-rate food, fine clothing, and good books, especially the Holy Bible - made a promise to Quong's father: Barker would track down and bring to justice whoever was responsible for Quong's murder.

Now, however, even after all this time had passed, the police have found a new clue: a pawn ticket that Quong had hidden in the lining of his clothing. Barker soon realizes that Quong had used the pawn shop as a hiding place for a very important treasure: a Chinese book of martial arts secrets, a book that apparently had been taken from the Xi Jiang Temple in China. The mysterious book - The Limehouse Text - has now attracted the covetous interest of any number of ruthless villains, and when Barker, Llewelyn, and the police join forces to find the pawn shop, redeem the ticket, and recover the book, the problems and the dangers quickly escalate.

First, Barker and Llewelyn learn that the former pawn shop owner had recently died under mysterious circumstances. Then, the policeman who had continued his investigation and had found numerous clues into Quong's death is shot and killed. Later, Barker's butler is attacked and injured when he confronts an intruder in Barker's home. As the accidents, assaults, and murders accumulate, Barker and Llewelyn quickly realize that Quong's murder 'was not merely an unsolved case but an ongoing one in the midst of which one could easily be killed.' Moreover, Barker and Llewelyn must acknowledge that the enigmatic book continues to exert its strange power, becoming 'the cause of our present misery and a good deal more to come.' In an intriguing and exciting race against time and danger, Barker and Llewelyn must solve the complicated mystery of 'the Limehouse text.'

At the end, borrowing a plot device from the early twentieth century's golden age of mysteries, the author Will Thomas orchestrates a dramatic denouement in which the brilliant Barker gathers all the likely suspects in one room. When the case of The Limehouse Text is finally solved, in a splendid flourish of bravado and deductive reasoning that would have impressed even Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Barker patiently explains everything to the Watson-like assistant, Llewelyn. Of course, almost everyone - certainly including Llewelyn (and this reader) - had been foiled throughout the adventure. Only the gifted Cyrus Barker had the wherewithal to focus upon the correct clues, ignore the red herrings, outsmart the scoundrels, and then reach the only sensible conclusion. Watching Barker finally untie all the tangled strands of the knotted plot and explain his solution is simply delicious icing on the well-made cake in this thoroughly entertaining mystery.

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