Book Review: A Venomous Love by Chris Karlsen

Detective Ruddy Bloodstone is facing the most bizarre crime spree of his career as a copper on the Victorian streets of London. Someone is using a poisonous Cape cobra as a weapon. At first, simple robbery seems to be the only motivation, but when the suspect suddenly kills wealthy businessman Isaiah Underhill, these crimes go from strange to deadly. Ruddy and his partner, Archie Holcomb, have few clues and no idea what would cause such a change in the criminal’s behavior. Ruddy suspects this isn’t just an unlucky break for Underhill but a targeted killing, and when the criminal returns to attack Honoria Underhill, the victim’s daughter, he knows he has to find the man before he succeeds in killing Honoria as well. With Jack the Ripper still fresh on the minds of every citizen, Ruddy and Archie have to locate this criminal quickly or risk not only the ire of their supervisor but also the shame of losing the case to Scotland Yard. But with no clear connection to the Underhills, no idea of the killer’s identity other than his scarred appearance, and a weapon capable of killing with a single bite, Ruddy is facing one of his toughest, deadliest mysteries.

The strong characterization of numerous characters shines bright within this fourth edition to The Bloodstone Series. Ruddy Bloodstone, a Holmes-esque protagonist, has an intuitive “ability to read people and [an] acuity at measuring their nature.” A talented sketch artist and survivor of the Zulu wars, he is more than a talented detective. This no-nonsense former soldier isn’t “in the habit of apologizing for doing his job,” regardless of the social rank and attitude of the Londoners who fail to respect him. However, Ruddy is more than that. He is also very forward-thinking for the time period. This trait is most obvious in his relationship with Honeysuckle, his girlfriend. He often turns to her when he needs advice or simply to talk through the particulars of his case, but the most endearing quality is his respect for her honesty and the “rightness” of her choices. Ruddy appreciates and loves her “self-assured attitude” and “belief in her choices” and would never presume to tell her who she should be. The relationship between these two is more modern than Victorian, but this type of respect and love aren’t limited to Ruddy and Honeysuckle. Though not appearing as often, Archie Holcomb’s relationship with his wife, Meg, mirrors much the same qualities. Their love is touching, and the strength he finds within her quiet confidence is clearly portrayed. Archie’s calming influence and “extraordinary way of easing people’s pain”seems directly tied to his steady familial bonds with Meg and his twin daughters. Though not a major character, a similar strength can be found in Will, Ruddy’s brother. A former officer stationed in India, Will has recently been dismissed from the service that has defined him for twenty years due to a permanent injury. He refuses to take advantage of a possible relationship with a wealthy female character on principle though it could make his life much easier. He is solid and forthright, and his addition adds to this cast of male solidity. 

Kip Idrizi, the thief-turned-murderer, provides an interesting issue within the novel. Though he commits two murders and is clearly an antagonist, his story and reasons for committing the crimes will give the reader pause. Kip, an orphan and smallpox-scarred member of the lower class, wants a better life. With no education and no prospects, he resorts to his life of crime after saving and befriending a Cape cobra, Delilah. He hopes to “earn” enough money from “a toff with a fat wallet” to go to America and begin a life of obscurity in a “dirty” town in the West where he wants desperately to be overlooked for his scars. His feelings of inadequacy, though leading to heinous acts, are directly related to society’s treatment of him. In this vicious cycle, he cannot escape the jibes and hatred because of his appearance and poverty, so he, in essence, falls prey to an unscrupulous member of that upper-class group. This situation creates a duality in the reader’s feelings for Kip, where his vicious crimes war with his kindness toward a near-dead reptile and desire for a simple life of obscurity. 

Class discrimination presents a major dilemma for a number of the novel’s characters. Most obviously, this difference in societal treatment affects Kip; however, it extends to the protagonist as well. The distance between the haves and have nots leads to a lack of respect for Ruddy and Archie and blocks the progression of their case at times. The victims of Kip’s crimes often treat the two detectives with disdain because of their peerage and self-proclaimed importance. Will also suffers from this disparity. Though he is a veteran injured abroad on behalf of his queen, he doesn’t receive the respect he deserves for his service.  The class division not only leads to the crimes but also shows a stark contrast between the wealthy and the “every man” in Victorian England.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

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