I could tell you that I wanted to read Oscar de Muriel’s debut novel „The Strings of Murder“ because it’s set in my two favorite cities London (although this only applies for the first few chapters) and Edinburgh, or because the story takes place in 1888 which to me is by far the most exciting year in crime history due to the mysterious serial killer Jack the Ripper, or because I just can’t get enough of thrillers that deal with the Victorian era, and all these reasons would be true – but let’s be honest: the main reason why I wanted to read (and own) this book was because of the amazing book cover which is without doubt one of the prettiest I’ve ever encountered in crime fiction. So all in all „The Strings of Murder“ came with the best premises to be the perfect book for me – and it didn’t disappoint.
A Jack the Ripper copycat in Edinburgh?
The novel might be set in the year of 1888 and start in London but let me say right from the start that „The Strings of Murder“ is NOT a Jack the Ripper story. But of course Oscar de Muriel didn’t choose this setting for no reason because even without an actual appearance of the most infamous serial killer in the history of crime the story can’t deny a certain influence by the monster that killed at least five women but has never been caught: A violinist is brutally murdered and disemboweled in Edinburgh and since everyone in the United Kingdom is quite tensed by the omnipresence of „Saucy Jack“ and his violent murders Scotland Yards is tied up in knots and at all costs wants to avoid an uproar caused by the news of another shocking crime. Victim of this policy is Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Frey who against his will is being transferred to Edinburgh where he’s supposed to discreetly investigate the violinist’s gruesome death with the local police. To say Frey is not amused by his superior’s decision puts it very mildly, especially since he not only has to leave his familiar surroundings and fears for his professional career in London but before he leaves also gets dumped by his fiancé who tells him she rather wants to accept the proposal of another man.
One of the most entertaining detective duos in the genre
So Inspector Frey definitely has a rough start in de Muriels new crime series, but it gets even worse when he meets his new partner, Scottish Detective Adolphus „Nine-Nails“ McGray, who not only has a very appropriate nickname but is also the complete opposite of his English guest-investigator: while Frey is rather starched, quite eager when it comes to his career and could even be described as a bit arrogant, McGray definitely gets to be the weird part of this duo and is a strong believer in the paranormal, likes to fight and couldn’t care less about Victorian etiquette. While the saying goes that opposites attract each other, it soon becomes quite obvious that this doesn’t apply to Frey and McGray, which doesn’t make the already challenging investigation any easier – especially not for the London Inspector who’s driven crazy by Nine-Nails casual attitude and his superstitious quirks – but which provides a lot of fun for the readers. Seeing how the two investigators constantly insult each other and don’t hold back their snarky remarks is absolutely hilarious and their bickering made me laugh quite often, a thing I definitely hadn’t expected in a quite gruesome murder story. Two main characters that don’t like each other often come with the risk of being a pain in the ass not only for themselves but also for the readers but I can’t remember the last time I had as much fun with a detective duo as I had in „The Strings of Murder“. Their dialogues alone – especially when McGray infuriates Frey with his almost impossible to understand Scottish accent – are worth the money alone.
Horror & humor in a gripping Victorian murder mystery
This great humor is also a perfect contrast to the quite bloody murders (yes, there’s more than one) and the dark atmosphere of the Victorian Edinburgh. I loved how Oscar de Muriel played with occult and paranormal elements to make the murder case even more interesting and macabre and even though I’ve read crime stories set in the 19th century that were maybe more suspenseful and thrilling I was permanently hooked to the story and really enjoyed the mystery. There were quite a few mysterious puzzles to solve and interesting characters to interrogate and there wasn’t a single moment where I felt even slightly bored. If you like historical crime fiction, have a thing for the Victorian era and appreciate snarky characters that don’t hold back in a verbal disputes, you definitely shouldn’t miss Oscar de Muriel’s debut novel „The Strings of Murder“ – a gripping and atmospheric murder mystery that perfectly combines horror and humor.