Death and the Running Patterer: A Curious Murder Mystery
by Robin Adair
Review by Mel Jacob
Berkley Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425237038
Date: 07 December 2010 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Journalist Robin Adair provides detailed insights into the early history of Sydney, Australia in his debut novel Death and the Running Patterer. Nicodemus Dunne, a patterer--a sort of town crier, who provides news for those who cannot read or haven't the money or time for local newspapers. An ex-convict, now on parole, he responds to the governor's call to assist in solving the brutal murder of a soldier. Little does he know his efforts will lead the authorities to believe he did the killings.
A Bow Street Runner in London, he received a sentence of eight years for assault on an officer and was then transported to Australia. As a parolee, he has a limited choice of jobs and ends as a patterer. That occupation provides him access to a broad spectrum of the population.
Other murders of ex-soldiers follow the first, employing a variety of methods, and it takes Dunne's cleverness and the astute observations of Dr. Thomas Owens who does the autopsies to uncover the links between the victims. Red herrings abound and keep the reader guessing.
The novel mixes in several real people and places as well as real historical events. The Afterword clarifies this and relates what happen to these people in later life.
Other historical mysteries have treated brutal murders, and this one from 1828 shares much with Mister Slaughter by Robert McCammon, which takes place in Colonial America at the start of the eighteenth century. It also shares gender bias with Charles Finch's Victorian mystery A Stranger in Mayfair, set in the late nineteenth century. Both of these, like Adair provide rich details of the periods they represent, occasionally much more than needed.
Having lived in the Sydney area, many of the places and names are familiar to me. Three notes of criticism, the author withholds information on the murderer until the end, but does so to maintain the suspense and heighten what he hopes is the surprise of the murderer's identity. He also has Dunne explain the suspicious actions of various people that had led him originally to consider them as suspects and created red herrings for readers. The explanations aren't really necessary. Lastly, he has the murderer confess and explain the motives for the murders. Of more interest, he drops hints about Dunne's background and why authorities levied such a heavy sentence on him. The author leaves plenty of scope for more adventures by Dunne.