Raven Books | 2019 (2 May) | 370p | Review copy | Buy the book
It was in March 1881 that Dora Hannigan with her two children visited the pharmacy above which Leo Stanhope lodged. Leo hadn’t been able to help her when she asked for credit to buy a medicinal powder. Just a few days later Dora is found dead in the courtyard of the so-called Anarchists’ Club, an establishment where the disaffected and the angry meet to plot vengeance on the establishment. The police find a note with Leo’s address in her purse. Perhaps her visit to the Pharmacy hadn’t been by chance after all. As far as the police are concerned, the connection makes Leo a suspect and that is something that Leo must avoid at all costs. Nothing must be allowed to endanger Leo’s secret. He must keep it safe at every cost. But when a member of the Anarchists’ Club remembers Leo from their youth and threatens to reveal his secret unless he provides an alibi for him, Leo is put in an impossible and dangerous situation.
Then there’s the matter of the two motherless children. Leo’s hunt for them is short. The boy and girl turn up on his doorstep and Leo now learns that it’s not just his own life at risk. But how far will Leo go to protect them as he hunts for their mother’s killer?
The Anarchists’ Club is the second Leo Stanhope novel in a series that began with The House on Half Moon Street. That was such a strong debut from Alex Reeve, clearly a very talented and insightful author, and yet I think that The Anarchists’ Club is even better. There are brief mentions of the previous novel (Leo is still recovering emotionally from past events) but both books stand alone very well indeed.
Leo Stanhope is an incredible main character. I said when I reviewed the earlier novel that he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and nothing has changed. If Leo’s secret (revealed to the new reader early on in the book) were discovered, he would be destroyed. He hides his emotions but they’re there. He expresses his anxiety by painfully pinching himself. He tries to reveal nothing. It isn’t easy at all when, in this novel, his family try to make contact. And also there’s the matter of his relationship with Dora Hannigan’s two children. It’s in these scenes that this novel truly shows its power. Alex Reeve’s portrayal of Leo and of the children is insightful, emotional and also simply gorgeous. They feel like real people, albeit people clearly belonging to that other age of late Victorian England.
I loved the portrayal of London during the 1880s. Leo is a fine tourguide as he takes us around his city, including (especially enjoyably) the Zoo – I really appreciated the map at the beginning of the book. We meet both poor and rich, the vulnerable and the exploiters. The setting of the Anarchists’ Club is intriguing, although the politics remain very much secondary to the mystery.
And it’s such a good mystery. Alex Reeve maintains the tension and pace as Leo becomes consumed by the need to learn the truth and do right by these children. The case raises all sorts of questions about late Victorian society, including the ways in which it sought entertainment. There are some great scenes here. But the book also throws light on such themes as Victorian attitudes towards women and those without a voice. You sense that this is a time ripe for anarchy indeed.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Anarchists’ Club, reading it in just one day. It’s beautifully written and steeped in its time and place. It shines in particular though for its sensitive and moving portrayal of the troubled Leo Stanhope. This novel confirms the series’ place as one of the finest historical crime series about, with one of the most distinctive and memorable historical detectives of them all. I look forward to more!
The House on Half Moon Street