Full disclosure: William Holden was the co-founder of Out in Print, leaving last year to devote more time to his own writing. And we’re definitely lucky he did, for his horror and erotica are among the most imaginative currently in both genres. He also writes historicals like The Thief Taker, a sequel to his first book in this series, Secret Societies. Taking place in 18th century London and Paris, these books titillate as well as thrill, soaked in the grimy atmosphere of these cities like a beggar’s piss-stained undergarments (don’t worry–Bill would heartily approve of that comparison).
Having been imprisoned for sodomy and prostitution in London, Thomas Newton escapes to Paris to heal not only his body, but his heart. His mentor, Mother Clap, was also pilloried and killed for running the house at which he worked and his only love, Christopher, was killed. However, his reputation precedes him, and he’s again clapped in prison. This time he is rescued by an old acquaintance, Pierre Baptiste, who teams up with Newton as they return to London to hunt down and kill the person responsible for Mother Clap’s death and the beginnings of his own misery. And who is this person? Newton’s own father, a moneyed and respected member of the House of Lords.
The problem with sequels is their ability to stand alone, and here’s where many authors run into difficulty. Enough has to be carried over to link the books together but not so much as to make the current volume obscure and unintelligible. With a story populated by as many characters as Newton’s, some references are bound to be lost or forgotten. Most of those instances in The Thief Taker are relatively unimportant and can be ridden over with ease unless you’re the kind of stickler for details who has to know these things.
Rather than concentrate on these niggling details, the wise reader will wallow in the atmosphere and the perfectly understandable plot, which races along like a runaway carriage. But it’s not breathless. Holden pauses in the chase and search long enough to catch you up and let you indulge in some of Newton’s innumerable sexual dalliances. And this is where you can truly wallow, for Holden holds nothing back in his sex scenes. All senses are used (and some used up), and this being a historical novel, his characters are more heady than hygienic. You can smell and taste the tang in the air, especially the prison sex–which, apparently, was too much for some Goodreads readers. However, it’s period, totally appropriate, and lends a verisimilitude that cleaner encounters would destroy.
And then there are the characters. Thomas Newton is a constantly changing being. Cowed and malleable at the beginning of Secret Societies, we see him growing and getting smarter by the end of the book until here in The Thief Taker, he’s nearly as savvy as his benefactor, Pierre. And Pierre is no slouch, either.
So you can either start with Secret Societies and move on to this little gem or start here and pick up the earlier installment to backfill your need for more. Because Holden makes quite certain you will want more. I’m curious to see if he turns this into a trilogy. Its ending would make that difficult, but if anyone could do it, he could.
© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler