London, 1813: Bow Street Runner Matthew Hawkwood is summoned to a burial ground and finds the corpse of a young woman, murdered and cast into an open grave.
At first the death is deemed to be of little consequence. But when Chief Magistrate James Read receives a direct order from the Home Office to abandon the case, Hawkwood’s interest is piqued.
His hunt for the killer will lead him from London’s backstreets into the heart of a government determined to protect its secrets at all costs. Only Hawkwood’s contacts within the criminal underworld can now help.
As the truth behind the girl’s murder emerges, setting in motion a deadly chain of events, Hawkwood learns the true meaning of loyalty—and that the enemy is much closer to home than he ever imagined…
THE RECKONING is not a book for the faint of heart, nor anyone who doesn’t like animal cruelty, violence, or graphic action in a fight scene. That’s because author, James McGee, accurately portrays the gritty underbelly of early 19th century London, when Britain is at war with France, as the Napoleonic Wars raged across Europe.
This is McGee’s sixth novel in the Matthew Hawkwood series, but my first outing and not to be my last. The author skilfully makes this easy to read as a standalone, without the need to have read previous installments. Any references made to previous escapades and adventures are all told within the context of the story, and add to the over-all story and background of our erstwhile hero, Hawkwood. A man who’s as straight as an arrow, and happy to bend the wrong rules for all the right reasons. Especially in pursuit of justice for a killer’s victims.
I thoroughly enjoyed the rich detail that McGee has woven into a tight tapestry of what life was like during this period, in English history. And loads us up with plenty of intrigue on any number of levels. Not just a murder mystery, with Officer Hawkwood trying to trace a killer with little or no clues to go on. This is also a political thriller, with plenty of insight to the inner workings of the government, or, I should say, a number of departments, and high society of the day. Specifically, the warped sexual proclivities of the upper echelon and their ilk.
It is McGee’s descriptions of this sordid world, that while repugnant, show us just how life was for so many—the struggle for survival on a daily basis, brutal and cutthroat. And yet, within this world there are moments of lighthearted banter, jovial comradeship, and small slither of light. It is not all darkness and gloom, not all pain and drudgery.
McGee also lightens the load with wonderfully drawn characters, Hawkwood may carry the bulk of the story, but the other characters are as well crafted and fully fleshed out. I specifically like Jago, a rapscallion of a man who is Hawkwood’s right hand man, and has Hawkwood’s back. Then there is James Read, the Chief Magistrate at Bow Street, and Hawkwood’s ‘boss,’ who is the ‘moral’ compass, and even Read’s clerk, Twigg, was someone you don’t soon forget, as he provided some droll moments of humour. Even the Coroner’s surgeon, Quill, in his ‘death’ house, provided a welcome chance for the author to provide us with some great banter back and forth.
With plenty of colourful, engaging characters, going up against the entrenched bureaucracy of Brooke, Addington and Saxby, and with some keenly written snappy dialogue, McGee weaves an excellent story to a very real backdrop of history. He combines plenty of action and yes, plenty of violence, to keep a reader turning the page. And for me, this was a real page turner. I read The Reckoning over two days, sucking up and relishing every detail.
While I enjoyed this novel, I will admit it might not be to everyone’s taste. As I stated, there is plenty of violence within the context of the story, and in part, the details are a little on the grisly side—but never overly gory, at least, not for me. If you like your murder mystery with a historically accurate background, a bunch of well-shaded characters, and a lot of period action (pun intended) then you will probably enjoy this one as much as I did.
Paperback, 400 pages