The Amateur Historian: A Thriller
by Julian Cole
Cover Artist: Photo: iStockphoto / Eric Vega
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312586591
Date: 22 June 2010 List Price $23.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In 1901, there was an impoverished nine-year-old, Esme Percy, who lived in York, England; the poor, undernourished waif died under mysterious circumstances. In present day York, an amateur history enthusiast studies Esme's photograph and obsesses over her death; his perverted sense of justice leads him to abduct an eight-year-old girl, Polly Markham, from an upper middle class family. Two brothers who are as opposite as day and night, Private Investigator Rick Rounder and Chief Inspector Sam Rounder, must set aside their differences and locate the missing Polly. Meanwhile, Rick's life is endangered by those who blame him for not preventing the death of another young girl, Tanya Smitten, who was killed by her stepfather.
Julian Cole's The Amateur Historian is a highly unique, very suspenseful mystery. I gripped this novel with trembling hands as I read the accounts of Esme Percy and Polly Markham and feared for their safety. Alternating between 1901 and the present, this novel (sometimes heartrending, sometimes joyous) depicts how past events influence the present. The plight of the impoverished Percy family was a bitter one and I felt the pangs of guilt as I ate my salad at Panera Bread while reading The Amateur Historian. Julian Cole's depiction of historical York is extremely vivid. It made me thankful for the healthy food and clean clothes that I have while Esme, and most all of Hungate, York, were trapped in poverty and Polly laid trapped in darkness and filth. Escape seemed hopeless for either one of them.
Not only is The Amateur Historian a debut novel for Julian Cole, but it is also the first in a series of mystery novels featuring the interesting Rounder brothers of York. Sam, the oldest, has a physique that is rounder than his athletic brother, Rick. Sam is a bitter workaholic, whereas Rick is more carefree and happy go lucky. Sam's marriage to Michelle is rife with adultery; Rick has a beautiful girlfriend, Naomi, whom he met when living in Queensland, Australia. It is no wonder that Sam's jealousy towards his brother borders on hatred. However, Rick is far from perfect. It was Tanya's murder that haunted Rick, forcing him to flee to Australia.
The setting for The Amateur Historian is very intriguing. York is rich with history. It contains one of the seven wonders of England, the magnificent York Minster, which is the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. Destroyed in several invasions, it was always rebuilt. The York Minster served as a significant landmark in 1901 and still does in 2010. Hardly changing, it links the past with the present. The community of Hungate also plays a significant role. With the help of a history teacher, Malcolm Hunt, Sam uses archival maps to compare 1901 Hungate to present Hungate in order to locate the hidden Polly.
The Amateur Historian is a very gloomy, atmospheric mystery that is highly recommended for fans of historical mysteries. The reader won't be able to put it down until learning the fates of Esme Percy and Polly Markham, two girls who lived over a century apart.
The Amateur Historian is a study in contrasts: the contrast between two brothers, the contrast between the past and the present, the contrast between two girls of different economic backgrounds, etc. Lovers of historical mysteries, which alternate between the past and the present, may also want to read DaniŽlle Hermans' The Tulip Virus and Blake Crouch's Abandon. Another highly recommended mystery pertaining to the abduction of little children for exploitation is The End Game: A Mystery, written by Gerrie Ferris Finger.