The Devil's Ribbon (Hatton and Roumande)
by D.E. Meredith
Cover Artist: Design: David Baldeosigh Rotstein
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312557690
Date: 25 October 2011 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
D.E. Meredith has out-shined (or out-grossed) her superb debut novel, Devoured, with her latest historical gem, The Devil's Ribbon. She has deftly combined history with horror in a complex, intriguing plot involving a series of macabre murders that are extremely depraved even by today's standards. Vengeance is the motivation behind vicious acts of murder and terrorism. From the opening act of bloody murder to the shocking conclusion, I was spellbound by a depiction of Victorian London in all its gritty, polluted, drug obsessed harshness. My heart literally leaped inside my chest when the killer's identity was finally revealed; I didn't have a clue.
The lonely, dedicated Professor Adolphus Hatton is the expert in the burgeoning, but controversial, science of forensics. Finger printing is a new technique he is endeavoring to perfect. His assistant is family man Albert Roumande, a gentle giant. This time around, they have a young, handsome apprentice, Patrice, who enjoys sketching, reminding me of th Jack Dawson character of the megahit film, Titanic. Hatton's former nemesis, Inspector Jeremiah Grey, practically orders these three men to assist him in apprehending a serial killer.
As the novel progresses, Hatton develops a closer bond to Grey but never one that borders on true friendship. However, Hatton does develop a close friendship with a beautiful widow, Sorcha McCarthy--a friendship which blossoms, somewhat, into romance. Sorcha reminds him of Mary, a young Irish girl who was brutally murdered.
As stated earlier, D.E. Meredith paints a gritty, harsh painting of Victorian England. It is a painting that includes the ill treatment of the Irish people who emigrated there because of the Irish Potato Famine. It lasted between 1845 and 1852; one million Irish died and another million fled. During this time, the Irish, who were treated no better than slaves by the ruling British, were not allowed to own land. The famine was an excuse for genocide; entire villages were decimated and their remaining inhabitants forced onto ships where many died of starvation and disease. In London, the biggest city in the world at that time, the Irish lived in the worst of the city's squalor. Because life in London was so harsh, even for the average man, many citizens indulged in addictive drugs. For example, Inspector Grey snacks on opium bonbons as though they are jelly beans. I was absolutely shocked and appalled by living conditions in London, especially those of the Irish.
The Devil's Ribbon has a dark, horrifyingly oppressive atmosphere that suffocated me. Combine this with political intrigue, gruesome murders, a truly disturbing mystery, and characters that are both admirable and despicable, and you have a truly unforgettable, eye-opening experience. Prepare to read a lot about flies, maggots, lice, and other creatures that inhabit dead bodies. Find out what happens to a dead body that has been left in the bowels of a shipwreck after two weeks of an intense heat wave. Not for the squeamish, The Devil's Ribbon is highly recommended for those, like me, who enjoy an excellent mixture of mystery and horror, especially when it is set during Victorian England. Most importantly, the plight of the poor Irish during the famine will haunt the reader long after he/she has finished reading the novel.
I highly recommend, for fans of macabre mysteries, the mystery horror novels of Todd Ritter: Death Notice and Bad Moon. Both are superb chillers. Fans of historical mysteries with a supernatural element may also want to read Phil Rickman's The Bones of Avalon. This novel expertly depicts the harshness of Medieval England. Historical mysteries always make me appreciate the luxuries of modern living, such as a hot shower.