cover image The Hellfire Conspiracy

The Hellfire Conspiracy

Will Thomas, . . Touchstone, $14 (311pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-9640-3

At the start of Thomas's well-crafted fourth Barker and Llewelyn mystery to feature a London detective duo clearly modeled on Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (after 2006's The Limehouse Text ), a distraught guardsman, Major DeVere, consults Cyrus Barker, a smugly intellectual private enquiry agent, and his young apprentice, ex-con Thomas Llewelyn. The major's 12-year-old daughter has disappeared, and DeVere fears she has fallen victim to white slavers, though the sleuths suspect a serial killer may be at work. The plot thickens when Barker receives a taunting letter in rhyme signed “Mr. Miacca,” a child-eating bogeyman from a bedtime story. Scotland Yard hampers the investigation in a possible coverup of some upper-class depravities. The taut plotting, interesting variations on familiar themes and incorporation of some of the political issues of the day elevate the series above most pastiches, though veteran mystery readers won't be too surprised at the killer's identity. (July)