The Anarchists’ Club – Alex Reeve (Felony & Mayhem Press)

I’m always up for historical fiction and historical mysteries are a big plus, so I was really excited to receive this volume in the mail from Michele Karlsberg introducing me to trans man Victorian detective Leo Stanhope. This the second book, and if I didn’t have a TBR stack that now extends to three coffee tables, I’d be anxious to read the first one. I’ll definitely be looking for the third.

Born Charlotte “Lottie” Pritchard, Leo Stanhope carries that big secret as best he can, staying at the chemist shop with its proprietor, Alfie, working at the hospital, and playing chess with his friend, Jacob. His quiet life, however, is about to get hectic when he becomes involved with the murder of a customer, Dora Harrington near her residence inside a controversial club for political outsiders. Not only was his name and address found in her pocket, but he’s also threatened by a man to provide him with a alibi or he’ll expose Leo as Lottie. Added to the mix are Dora’s children, Aidan and Ciara, whom Leo feels responsible for. He wants to find a home for them, but the closer he gets to solving the mystery of her murder, the farther away from that goal he seems to be.

Reeves does an excellent job setting up the Victorian atmosphere, both in terms of character and setting. The mystery of who killed Dora is interesting and engaging, full of twists and turns, especially toward the end. I also found Stanhope’s interest in the children to be heartfelt, Reeve setting up a fascinating dichotomy between Stanhope’s innate maternal instinct contrasted with the desire to present as a single father. Those two, of course, are not mutually exclusive, but the author illustrates the perils of such an arrangement well, especially considering the time period.

Stanhope’s father is also in poor health, adding a familial air to the plot. He left home under a cloud, and his father doesn’t know what became of him. His sister, however, does, and she’s none too happy about it–especially when he asks her to hide the children from the parties seeking them. They have a very tentative relationship with little but their father in common, and when Stanhope goes back to make amends with the old man, he does so not as Charlotte but as Leo.

The Anarchists’ Club, then, is a great little mystery with some politicial overtones guaranteed to whet your appetite for more Leo Stanhope. Well recommended!

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

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