Old Scores (Barker & Llewelyn)
by Will Thomas
Cover Artist: Mark Owens / Arcangel
Review by Mel Jacob
Minotaur Books Hardcover / eBook ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250077967
Date: 03 October 2017 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
When the Japanese Ambassador and his party visit Cyrus Barker to view his Japanese garden, his Welsh assistant Thomas Llewelyn detects a reaction on Barker's part toward one of the party. Later, the Ambassador is found dead and the police arrest Barker.
Cyrus Barker is a successful inquiry agent in Victorian London. His unorthodox methods solve crimes other see as impenetrable. His oddities define him, while his intelligence is unsurpassed. However, when he is found with a gun that had been recently fired, he is arrested for the Japanese Ambassador's murder. The Special Branch and Foreign Office are involved and one man in particular tries to beat a confession out of Barker.
Freed by his trusty lawyer, Barker pursues the case. He had seen a sneak thief come down the chimney just before the Ambassador was shot. He recognized the thief from the black shape and the way the person moved. He's determined to learn what the thief wanted. Llewelyn is surprised to learn it was Barker's ward, a young Chinese woman who recently married a local Chinese businessman with a penchant for opium. She won't say why she was at the embassy but admits being there about the time of the murder.
The Japanese are eager to establish trade with the British and especially want warships and weapons. The military has plans to expand into the Korean peninsula and even China. The Chinese and Japanese dislike each other. Some members of the delegation focus on machinery, consumer goods, and art.
A Japanese assassin, one of the embassy's bodyguards, unsuccessfully tries to kill Barker. Then a second attack by a different man leaves the new assassin dead and the police assume he killed the ambassador. Gradually, as the investigation continues, Llewelyn learns more about Barker's past, his sojourn in Japan, and who Barker recognized during the Ambassador's visit.
The climax of the novel is inevitable, but Thomas has a few other surprises for the reader.
Old Scores is the ninth mystery in the Barker and Llewelyn series. Thomas uses the period and settings effectively and takes the reader to other times and places, including the Chinese quarter of London in the 1890s. We learn more about Barkerís tragic past and why he loves his Japanese garden. As always, the novel is narrated by Llewelyn.