Book Review: The Illusion of Innocence by Jacqueline Jacques

Book - The Illusion of Innocence by Jacqueline JacquesI know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but this cover (with its simple, elegant design, Victorian camera, steam train and the word ‘mystery’) drew me in straight away. The Illusion of Innocence follows Archie Price, police artist and painter, as he helps to solve a mysterious crime in which the robber (Freddy Porter) stole a box of illicit postcards and murdered his victim. He meets Polly, sister of the accused, desperate to get away from Freddy and his gang, and all three end up on the same train, travelling to Chelmsford for the trial. A sudden and terrifying derailment turns everything upside down and, while Polly and Archie are looked after by a local family, Freddy is nowhere to be found.   

The historical detail in this novel is excellent and well-researched. It is also a gripping, emotional tale with intriguing, well-developed characters, and I found myself reading ‘just one more chapter’ a number of times (while desperately wishing that the police had mobile phones back then) as Archie and Polly became more and more entangled in this dark Victorian underworld. Even the slightly surreal inclusion of the music hall hypnotist ‘Revilo’, whose skills are used by the police to further their investigation, doesn’t take away from the realistic descriptions of life in Victorian Britain.

Archie uses his amazing photographic memory and talent for drawing faces, while Polly uses her photography skills, to help solve the case. Polly is a brave and pioneering young woman with a desire for freedom and women’s rights, but she must also learn to protect herself from Freddy and his associates, who treat her abominably.

Jacques does not shy away from describing the horrific abuse which Polly and numerous other women have suffered at the hands of men (such as the powerful Lord Beasley). The plot is fast-paced, considering the speed at which things moved in the late nineteenth century, racing towards a dramatic, violent and fairly abrupt finale.

This is actually the second Archie Price mystery, following on from The Colours of Corruption, which I shall definitely add to my ‘to read’ list, and the author is currently working on another, although the new book doesn’t have a title yet…

(Declaration: I received a free copy of this book from the author, but this has not affected my review in any way.)

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