Arrowod by Mick Finlay
BY MICK FINLAY (HQ) Out 23 MARCH
f you ever thought the Sherlock Holmes stories might benefit from being steeped in gin, caked in grime and then left unwashed for weeks, socio-psychology lecturer Mick Finlay’s 1895-set detective debut is for you. While Holmes took society cases, Finlay’s William Arrowood is your private dick for dirty deeds done dirt cheap: when he isn’t boozing himself senseless, he takes on cases from those who can’t afford Holmes.
We meet self-declared Holmes-hater Arrowood and his tough ’n’ ready John Watson-alike pal, narrator Norman Barnett, when a Frenchwoman tasks them with finding her missing brother. The mystery leads them to a grim South London boozer, the Barrel of Beef, and on to darker places, where Fenians, dodgy coppers, lethal gangsters, boiled-to-death corpses, bad memories and ruthless violence await them.
Like the mustard-slathered beef sarnie Arrowood messily devours, the result is a richly sharp, meaty mystery, made extra-pungent by Finlay’s brackish vision of a boozeaddled city, themes of social injustice and complex leads. Finlay’s heroes are engagingly flawed creations – guilt-ridden, grief-stricken, gout-riddled. Tellingly, Arrowood calls himself an emotional agent, not a deductive one: he’s all about reading people, not clues. Unafraid to dirty his hands on the grubby sides of humanity and history, Finlay makes a strong case for his psychological methodologies.