Author: James McGee
Pages: 480 (paperback)
Selected By: Elle Tea
“Hunting down highwaymen was not the usual preserve of a Bow Street Runner, so Matthew Hawkwood, the most resourceful of this elite band of investigators, was surprised to be assigned the case – even if it did involve the murder and mutilation of a naval courier. From the squalor of St. Giles Rookery, London’s notorious den of thieves and cutthroats, to the palatial homes of the aristocracy where knights of the realm conduct themselves in a manner unbecoming to their rank, Hawkwood relentlessly pursues his quarry. As the case unfolds and another body is discovered, the true agenda behind the robbery begins to emerge: the stolen naval dispatch pouch held details of a French plot that, if successful, will send the Royal Navy’s entire fleet scurrying to port in terror, leaving Napoleon to rule the waves. With no way of knowing who can be trusted, Hawkwood must engage in a desperate race against time to prevent the successful execution of the Emperor’s plot..” – adapted from the Amazon summary.
Well, I’m terribly disappointed, hence the “It’s Okay” two-cup score above. Just terribly, terribly disappointed. And part of this is my own fault – I was way too excited about a novel set in the Regency that was categorized as “Mystery / Suspense” rather than “Romance,” and I may have set the bar a little high. But seeing as this is the first book of a series, I will give the rest of the series the benefit of the doubt and try the second installment, Resurrectionist, in the near future. After I’ve recovered a bit.
I actually received a recommendation for this book from Amazon U.K. but then had a devil of a time finding it stateside because the title is entirely different. The first book in the Matthew Hawkwood series is called Ratcatcher; however, if you purchase the novel in America it is, for some reason, renamed simply Hawkwood. I can only assume this is due to American publishers believing that an American audience will understand the entirely fictional phrase “Hawkwood” more than they would the very real title of the very real job that is summed up best as “pest control” in the U.S. And, really, the title Ratcatcher is just so much more satisfying: besides sounding cooler than “Hawkwood,” it is also a bit of a play on words – our hero is, essentially, a rat-catcher himself – his entire job is pest control, of a sort.
So, now that we all know what book we’re talking about here, let’s get on with it, shall we?
Our story begins and is set up with a highway robbery that ends with the murder of a naval courier. Matthew Hawkwood, current Bow Street Runner and former soldier, is assigned to the case and tasked with retrieving the stolen documents and returning them to the proper authorities. From that point on (roughly about 20% in), we are given a theme-park tour of life in the Regency, from Grand Balls to seedy dens peopled with cutthroats, from the battlefront of the Napoleonic Wars to homegrown duels. To be perfectly honest, it was this setting in Regency London that was the biggest draw for me, and McGee’s done a fair job of laying early 19th-century London bare, revealing more of its underworld than any other novel about the period that I’ve read to date. In fact, the most intriguing part of the story itself actually involves the construction of Robert Fulton’s weapon of war that would eventually become known as the submarine.
And all of that was really quite fun. It was, sadly, the characters that irritated me more than anything else about this novel. And that’s no bueno in a book solely driven by those characters.
First off is our protagonist, Matthew Hawkwood. And it’s not even his fault – I just got so sick of hearing about how twitterpated the rest of the human race was over him. Every person who gets within a few feet of Hawkwood seems to fall under his spell: men and women alike quietly ponder or animatedly discuss the powerful appeal he has over every woman he’s ever met, how impressive they find his bearing and mannerisms, how amazed they are by – well, by everything about the man. He’s a Regency-era James Bond, so much so that whenever anyone mentioned “Hawkwood,” I heard it spoken in Daniel Craig’s RP accent: “Hawkwood. Matthew Hawkwood.” And for all their boasting and starry eyes, it really seems as if Hawkwood (“Matthew Hawkwood”) is really not all that capable at all – he falls for every trick and into every trap, and it’s left to a minor character to drag him back to safety. Not to mention that his illusion of omniscience is only possible because of the information provided to him from his informant, the inside-man called Jago, who, it turns out, is actually a far more interesting character than Hawkwood (“Matthew Hawkwood”) himself.
And the women. Gaw. So much care was taken to accurately present the dark side of the Regency, to paint a picture far different from those presented by contemporaries such as Jane Austen and modern authors obsessed with the romantic ideals of the era, that it’s twice as disappointing when over half of the population swings so far opposite of reality that it’s almost a parody. Not a single respectable woman in this novel – not a one – acts as a “respectable woman” would have during the Regency, a period of time when propriety and morality were the rules of the day and any other behavior was considered “loose” and intolerable by their families and society; apparently Hawkwood’s (“Matthew Hawkwood”) man-musk superpower is so overwhelming that it overrides the teachings and expectations of the day and quickly turns each woman into a Bond girl, complete with bodice-ripping and random acts of rolling about in the hay. This would be fine if this was a work of romantic or erotic fiction, but it isn’t – and nothing else about the novel is so completely left-field as the treatment of its female characters.
To sum it up, it has promise. A lot of promise. So, I’ll give the next book a go after I’ve finished our selection for January – but I’m not so enthralled with Hawkwood (“Matthew Hawkwood”) myself to continue if Resurrectionist doesn’t improve on the issues listed above.
End transmission, Miss Moneypenny.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.