Fiction is packed with eccentric detectives. From Sherlock Holmes with his penchant for odd questions and drug habits to Poirot and his obsession with his moustache to Lindsey Davis’ Falco with his remarkable lack of morals…fiction has more than its share of detective oddballs.
None of them however, could be as shockingly impertinent as Sidney Grice, the one-eyed protagonist of MAS Kasasian’s Gower Street Detective series. He refers to himself as a “personal detective” rather than a “private detective” and is exceedingly, almost embarrassingly sure of himself. When asked how he lost his eye, his response is: ” I did not lose it. That would imply a carelessness that is alien to my nature.”
Grice makes his debut in The Mangle Street Murders, based in late nineteenth century England. A lady whose daughter has been murdered asks him to save her son-in-law, who has been accused of the crime. An utterly insensitive Grice (he reminds his client to refer to her daughter in past tense) is not too keen to take the case, as the person cannot afford his fees. When she says that she thought that we would want to see justice done, Grice snaps: “I do not want your thoughts. I want your money.” Well, that is the point where Grice’s ward, March Middleton, who is also the narrator of the story, steps in and offers to pay his fees, provided he takes her (March) everywhere on his investigations.
And that leads to the Gower Street Detective pairing – a rather arrogant, overbearing and supremely gifted detective and his younger, sensitive and very kind ward. Of course, the contrast between makes for some brilliant conversations, with the young March refusing to get intimidated by her well-known guardian. In fact, we would go so far as to say that it is the conversations between Grice and March that make the book special. The plot itself is interesting, and Grice’s deductions are insanely brilliant but Kasasian throws in too many twists. The fact that March herself seems to have some mystery in her life and we keep seeing excerpts about her past life in her diary only complicates matters.
So while the plot of The Mangle Street Murders is complicated enough for those who like really tangled tales, what makes the special is the fact that it marks the debut of one of the most ill-mannered and yet one of the most amazing detectives out there. Read it for his utter insensitivity, his endless eccentricities (he is a vegetarian and disapproves of almost everything including most human beings) and his brilliant deduction. You would be stony hearted to not be shocked by some of his actions, and yet, Grice keeps you coming back for another outrageous remark or just another touch of genius. Indeed, after a while, you will find yourself grinning wryly at his remarks.
Mystery, a bit of humour, a lot of murder and a really eccentic central character. All of these make the Gower Street Detective series easy to recommend. And it gets underway with The Mangle Street Murders.