The Frightened Man by Kenneth Cameron

19 December, 2011

I was really excited about reading this after spying the second volume in this series by Kenneth Cameron, The Bohemian Girl. How could I possibly resist a title like that and especially since it is a historical mystery?

The Frightened Man is the start of the historical mystery series by Kenneth Cameron featuring Denton, a famous American writer living in turn of the century London. Set in 1900, London is still reeling from the gruesome murders by Jack the Ripper and the police have a reputation to re-establish. One dark evening, Denton receives a visit from a frightened man, a Mr. R. Mulcahey, who spills a story about witnessing a murder in flagrante long ago . He disappears before revealing anything else except that he’s looked into the eyes of Jack the Ripper. Denton, intrigued but in dire need of money and experiencing writer’s block, is soon drawn into this unlikely story when he himself is attacked by a half-crazed man in his own house. Suspicious about the intruder’s connection to Mulcahey’s unlikely story, Denton goes in search of the frightened man and the real identity of the prostitute who had been murdered, Stella Minter. In the process, he gets to know several policemen including one who loathes him, and a feisty woman, Mrs. Janet Striker, who is working tirelessly to better the plight of fallen women. Will Denton succeed before the murderer strikes again?

The premise of the novel sounded exactly like my cup of tea and I lapped it up. But unfortunately, the writing style and prose was dire. I think I was upset more because it could have been so much better. There was a lot of interesting ideas floating around but they were jostling with a lot of superfluous material which should have really been edited out. And not to mention the Americanisms that just grated. I know Denton is a displaced American living in London, but when a London bobby starts spouting American jargon, it gets a bit much. I really struggled through to the end, and it’s not a really thick book either with 300 pages of largish print. It did get slightly better towards the end, and I did find Cameron’s ideas regarding the role of women and the difficult relationships between men and women and the tragic consequences that occur quite interesting. However, the characters were larger than life and reminded me too much of a pantomime and just didn’t ring true. I’m not really a stickler to detail when it comes to historical fiction and mysteries, and yet every page threw out something that made me want to throw the book across the room.

But it seems I’m a masochist and so I finished the book. And I will probably read the second one as I admit I’m in love with the title. And I bought the third in the series at a library sale. Gah.

But the worst thing about reading The Frightened Man was the writing. It reminded me of my Nanowrimo novel with its padding and extra words that I already know I will have to edit out. I’m just surprised that Cameron’s novel hadn’t been revised more. I mean, there was four pages of description about Denton trying to climb a roof with vertigo. Four! That’s just indulgent, isn’t it? If it was tighter and more streamlined, it would have been a pretty good novel.

And it probably didn’t help that I’m reading C.J. Sansom’s Heartstone at the same time. Now that’s one atmospheric and cracking novel.

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