A Shadow On The Lens by Sam Hurcom

Posted On 12 September 2019

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AShadow.jpgShadow on the Lens is a period murder mystery set in the Edwardian Era.  The turn of the 19th century saw many changes and swept in a new age of discovery.  Forensic photography was a very new area of police work and one that was proving invaluable in the solving of crimes.  This is still an age of superstition though and science and the supernatural are battling for supremacy – surely though the camera doesn’t lie?

As the story begins we meet Thomas Bexley as he travels to a small town in South Wales to provide assistance in an inquiry into the death of a local woman.  Betsan Tilny is the victim, a young woman of apparently questionable virtue although nobody seems to be able to quite say why or pin down exactly what she has done to incur such dislike.  The village seems to be in the grip of hysterical superstition and nobody appears overly anxious to have a newcomer poking around and awakening things that are best left undisturbed.  As you might imagine this doesn’t exactly make things easy for Bexley, he struggles with the surly innkeeper, the local Councilman – Cummings – who is in charge of showing him around – and also the locals who are incredibly reluctant to be drummed up for questioning. On top of this Bexley comes down with a violent illness that makes his job twice as difficult and becomes so severe that he can barely function.

What I enjoyed about this.  The period and attention to detail.  I like reading murder mysteries in this historical period where detecting was at its inception and inspectors had to rely more on intellect and gut feelings. I think the author manages to create a really almost claustrophobic atmosphere of small town mentality which makes any detecting that much more difficult as people conspire to obstruct the course of justice.  I liked that there were a few red herrings going on along the way and the sense of atmosphere which was overall dark and gloomy, the ominous forest, the dark rooms in the Inn and the positively gothic horror scene at the crypt.

The writing was good to be honest but I’m not totally sure that it worked for me.  The tale is told by Bexley in the form of his notes, which he obviously tries to keep in the style of a police report.  I don’t know whether it was the style in which Bexley reported things or whether it was Bexley himself.  I can’t quite decide.  He’s not always the easiest to like character, it’s not that he particularly does anything wrong as such but it felt like he started his investigation on the wrong footing, he was expecting it to be too easy, that he’d simply walk in, solve the case and everyone would be astounded. On top of that, for me, there was at least one aspect of this that immediately occurred to me and once it had got inside my head I couldn’t shake it loose, I won’t say why because it would be a spoiler but in some ways I felt a little disappointed that I’d second guessed things.  Which isn’t to say I didn’t jump around a little, I wasn’t completely sold on my noton and I followed the red herrings just like Bexley, plus I had no real notions of the whys and wherefores just a wild theory more than anything else

I enjoyed that the investigation was hampered by superstition.  I thought the scenes in the forest really added to the overall creep factor that really came to a head when Bexley finally went to examine the body in the crypt.

In terms of criticisms.  I didn’t totally like Bexley, which isn’t to say I wouldn’t like to read more, but at this time I’m not completely bowled over by him.  And, I thought the ending felt a little rushed – although I did really like the final chapters.  On top of this it felt like the story was held back a little by Bexley’s illness, it felt like it overwhelmed the story a little bit too much.

Overall, an entertaining murder mystery with a hint of the supernatural.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

I would rate this 3.5 of 5 of 7 out of 10.