Caphorn is an appealing hero, like a cross between Dr Watson and Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey. However, this is Dr Watson without Sherlock, for Caphorn's famous mentor Hophole has retired prior to the events of the novel.
This makes Caphorn all the more engaging. Many fictional detectives have a air of infallible arrogance, such as Sherlock, Poirot and modern alternatives like Luther. However, Caphorn is both capable and haunted with self-doubt as he navigates his first solo case, which allows for a much more interesting character.
Leatherdale presents Caphorn through a brilliant first-person narrative, which perfectly captures the voice of a well-educated Englishman at the turn of the century. Caphorn narrates his tale in lavish detail and with impeccable British politeness. The romantic description of Boston itself shows that the author himself knows the town intimately.
The plot moves at a steady pace with intrigue established from the outset. As with any murder mystery, an assortment of characters are arranged for the reader to suspect. Could the killer be the short-tempered fiance? The retired army Major? The Major's beautiful wife? The lovestruck gardener? The bullish farmer? The charming Captain Cavendish? Or the missing alcoholic verger?
Leatherdale adds further layers of intrigue as the novel progresses to keep those pages turning. He is not afraid to throw a curveball into the plot such as a second victim, a mysterious Dutch sailor, or rumours of buried treasure. Happily, all plot threads are expertly brought together for a satisfying and dramatic conclusion.
Ultimately, In The Shadow of the Stump is well-crafted and gripping period detective fiction. It is a genre for which Leatherdale has a real talent and I eagerly await Caphorn's next investigation. Thankfully, the inspector is out of the shadows.
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