Book review: The House of Smoke by Sam Christer

The House of Smoke
The House of Smoke
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Cold-blooded assassin Simeon Lynch awaits the noose in notorious Newgate prison and only one man can save him… Sherlock Holmes, London’s greatest detective.

But Lynch is intent on taking revenge on the architect of his demise, Professor Brogan Moriarty, a criminal mastermind more wicked, more calculating and even more terrifying than his genius brother James.

The fight between good and evil will take us on a journey through Victorian London’s darkest alleyways and most wretched corners, and there is no guarantee that good will triumph.

Welcome to Sam Christer’s electrifying new adventure mystery which reimagines Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic characters, adds new and vibrant names to their 19th century underworld and creates a powerful and atmospheric thriller-chiller with a compelling social conscience.

As Big Ben chimes in the first seconds of the first day of 1900, the start of a new century, inside Newgate, London’s oldest gaol, preparations are underway to hang Victorian England’s deadliest assassin, a man wanted for murders stretching back two decades.

By his own admission, brutal Simeon Lynch, who has just 17 days left to live, has killed the old and the young, and both men and women. The taking of life has defined him and now he is hell-bent on escaping for just one purpose… to kill again.

For years, Simeon has been a cog in the wheel of the House of Moriarty, the most feared criminal empire in the world run by the Moriarty brothers.

James is the malevolent, high-profile extrovert but his reclusive brother Brogan is the driving force of the enterprise, the manipulative powerhouse with devilish designs.

As Simeon faces the final countdown to death and reflects on his bloody career as a killer, his employer’s nemesis, Sherlock Holmes, visits him with the offer of a deal… turn Queen’s Evidence against the Moriarty brothers in exchange for a pardon.

But Simeon refuses, preferring to try to escape and take his own style of revenge on those who have used him. But the law isn’t alone in wanting Simeon dead… he has made many enemies and knows dangerous secrets that others would kill for.

The House of Smoke, Christer’s fourth novel, was originally planned as a straightforward Victorian action thriller, the tale of a man born into poverty, tarnished by his environment and relegated to a life of crime and brutality in the back streets of London made famous by the likes of Conan Doyle and Dickens.

But Simeon Lynch’s circumstances sparked a new and more philanthropic exploration for Christer, the story of a man just as much sinned against as sinning, a victim of his age, his birth, his circumstances… and those who would exploit the weak, the poor and the vulnerable.

The result is an intelligent, exciting and seductive elaboration of both truth and fiction, a morality tale that tingles with all the tensions and menace of a fast-paced crime thriller, offers tantalising additions to the Sherlock Holmes landscape, but also exposes the destructive and corrupting iniquities of the Victorian age.

(Sphere, paperback, £7.99)