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A Fever of the Blood by Oscar de Muriel

Please note A Fever of the Blood is a direct sequel to The Strings of Murder and it is likely that if you haven’t read this book first then this review may contain something akin to minor spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you in advance.

New Year’s Day, 1889. In Edinburgh’s lunatic asylum, a patient escapes as a nurse lays dying. Leading the manhunt are legendary local Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray and Londoner-in-exile Inspector Ian Frey.

Before the murder, the suspect was heard in whispered conversation with a fellow patient – a girl who had been mute for years.

What made her suddenly break her silence? And why won’t she talk again? Could the rumours about black magic be more than superstition?

McGray and Frey track a devious psychopath far beyond their jurisdiction, through the worst blizzard in living memory, into the shadow of Pendle Hill – home of the Lancashire witches – where unimaginable danger awaits…

I do like to throw the odd crime novel into my reading list, and I have to admit, historical crime tends to be my personal favourite. In particular, I have a soft for anything set in the Victorian era. This time period feels like the dawn of modern police procedure, I always enjoy how processes and techniques that appear brand new to the characters are well established to the reader.

Once again evil stalks the streets of Auld Reekie, and it is up to Frey and McGary to catch a killer before they get a chance to strike again. As ever there are a plethora of questions to answer and conundrums to unpick. How is the murder linked to McGray’s family and that of his arch nemesis Lady Ardglass? Are the signs of witchcraft merely red herrings, or a sign of something far more ominous?

Ian Frey is still bemoaning the fact that he has been exiled up north and lumbered with the consistently uncouth Adolphus ‘Nine Nails’ McGray as his boss. He feels suitably put upon, and more often than not, considers his superior nothing but a boorish lout. This is probably not helped by the fact that Nine Nails has a habit of punching people when annoyed.

At the heart of this book, as with its predecessor, is the relationship between Frey and McGray. The constant back and forth is great fun. They really spark off one another, and even though there is a begrudging respect between the two, there is also a constant undercurrent of bickering.  In this book we get to see the reversal of Frey’s horror when McGray is forced to travel south of the border, much to his chagrin.

I’m pleased to report that the action stays firmly away from London. Good show too. There are far too many books set in and around the capital in this time period. I want to know what is going on elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and fortunately, Mr de Muriel is more than willing to oblige. During the course of this investigation, the majority of action takes place in Edinburgh and Lancaster. These locales make for a suitably grimy backdrop for what I suppose could best be called suitably grisly crimes.

I like when an author goes the extra mile and pays attention to the littlest details. Even the time of year and the weather add to the evocative tone in this novel. Set in the midst of a heavy snowfall in the depths of winter, this makes A Fever of the Blood a perfect book to enjoy on a dark winter’s night. It helps to ramp up the sinister quality that is already present due to the potentially paranormal elements that Frey and McGray are forced to face off against.

Book two really has delivered everything I could have hoped for. Another case with a distinctly supernatural bent, more insight in to what drives Nine Nails and makes him tick, and a sensible evolution in the relationship between the two leads. Long may this series continue. I’m more than happy to be labelled a die-hard Frey and McGray fan. If you enjoy television shows like Ripper Street or Murdoch Mysteries, then I would strongly suggest that you give this series of novels a try. You can thank me later.

A Fever of the Blood is published by Penguin and is available now.

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