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The Hidden Man (Cragg & Fidelis) by Robin Blake
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250054944
Date: 03 March 2015 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

In Preston, England, 1742, a young farmer is found lying paralyzed on the moors, the victim of a stroke; recently, he had come into possession of a silver apostles spoon that may be part of a hidden treasure. A goldsmith, Philip Pimbo, is shot to death within his own office, which was locked from the inside. Friends Dr. Luke Fidelis and Titus Cragg believe there is a connection between the two men and the ransacking of the goldsmith's safe, which contained the finances for Preston's fast-approaching Guild, an extremely prestigious festival. If they can identify the man who must've been hiding inside Pimbo's office when he was shot, they can locate the stolen money and save the Guild.

The Hidden Man (following Dark Waters and A Dark Anatomy) is Robin Blake's most intriguing historical mystery in the Cragg and Fidelis series. Hidden treasure; an ancient, sacrificial altar; insurance fraud; slave trading; cross dressing; human deformities; and bareback riding are just some of its interesting plot elements. Life in 18th century Britain could be harsh, primitive, and cruel; but it could also be richly colorful. Cragg and Fidelis enjoy playing amateur detectives among the villagers of Preston. The Hidden Man also provides readers a view of Britain's infant judicial system, banking system and forensics in eighteenth century Britain.

Readers will be most appalled by the Guinea Trade, which involved the purchasing of African slaves for huge profits. While crossing the ocean, slaves existed in deplorable conditions aboard the boats; many died from disease and were thrown overboard to be eaten by sharks. One out of ten boats were lost. There is a debate in the Preston courtroom about whether or not "negroes" are humans with souls. Also, women, in general, weren't treated much better than slaves. Widows were forced into a type of prostitution, always searching for a man who would support them after their funds were exhausted. Some women were kept in financial bondage by dead employers who willed them land, allowing them to keep it provided they didn't remarry.

Dr. Luke Fidelis and Titus Cragg make a wonderful sleuthing team. The story is narrated in the first person by Cragg. He is still happily married to Elizabeth. (They remain childless, which is a shame.) Fidelis has a secret lover in Liverpool, the city of sin; he travels there for answers in regards to a slave ship, The Fortunate Isle, which was lost at sea. Both men are strong and brave and don't cower before pursuing a villain. Fidelis is kind hearted, often giving free medical treatment to those who can't afford it. Cragg, who serves as both coroner and lawyer, does an excellent job during the inquest concerning Pimbo's suspicious demise.

Modern readers shouldn't worry about the readability of The Hidden Man. This novel is fast-paced and well-crafted. Words and sentences flow smoothly. It was an easy, enjoyable read.

Fans of historical mysteries should investigate this series beginning with its macabre debut, A Dark Anatomy, which involves witchcraft. Dark Waters pertains to a heated political race that turns bloody. The Hidden Man is more of a detective-like whodunit, which is packed with legal and medical procedures. Morality and ethics also play significant plot roles. A higher body count would have been nicer, but one can't have everything. Still, I hope I can have at least another installment in the Cragg and Fidelis series.

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