It is the year 1880, Disraeli is Prime Minister, and we have beautiful little dialogues between him and Queen Victoria, who refuses to believe that her "Dizzy" might be defeated in the forthcoming election. Disraeli himself is not so sanguine, and he is right. The mood of the country is one for change, and Gladstone, on a whirlwind tour of the country whipping up support for himself, is now in Edinburgh.
Inspector James McLevy is unimpressed by the electoral frenzy. And when a prostitute of his acquaintance is murdered with an axe, her whole torso split open from head to waist, he loses what little interest he did have in the speechifying; for this brings back memories of a series of exactly similar murders that took place thirty years earlier, when McLevy was still new on the force, and his middle-aged partner and mentor, dying of a stab wound, made him promise that one day he would find the axe-murderer and bring him to book. Now it seems he has the opportunity, if, as he suspects, it is that same killer striking again.
However, he very soon finds himself up against some of the highest in the land - then is suddenly taken off the case. And out of the blue, a mysterious and attractive young woman comes to his assistance. Who is she?
I loved it. Especially the way the author seems not only to be able to move effortlessly from palaces to slums and back again, but the way he creates the dismal atmosphere of Edinburgh at the end of a long, cold, grey winter that pervades the book, then breaks it up, not so much with the glimpses of Victoria and Disraeli in the sunshine on the Isle of Wight, far, far to the south, but by such pieces of pure poetry as: The inspector was still a little shaky; what he wouldn't give for an aromatic cup of Arabian best in Jean Brash's garden, the early roses matching her red hair, listening to the fluting calls of the whores as they hung out the morning-washed bed linen.
Why is it though that every novel I read set in Glasgow features prostitutes - and, it seems inevitably (given that it's Glasgow?), prostitutes as murder victims: "easy kill"?