The Circle by M J Trow

The CircleJuly 1868. Following on from the events of The Blue and The Grey, ex-Captain Matthew Grand and ex-journalist James Batchelor have set themselves up as investigators in London. But a summons from Grand’s cousin brings them to Washington DC. Lafayette Baker was one of the most despised men after the Civil War and there are suspicions that his death was far from natural.

As traces of arsenic poisoning are discovered, Grand and Batchelor find there is no shortage of suspects in his death. The newly formed Klu Klux Klan had him in their sights, as did most of the owners of Washington’s less salubrious businesses. How is the former spy Belle Boyd involved? And does the corruption run all the way to the President himself?

I really enjoyed the first in the series, an exciting adventure set against a back-drop of an era that I know very little about and that notion continues here. Post-Civil War Washington and the political machinations therein has a lot of potential for a murder mystery, and M J Trow takes full advantage of the historical background to weave his story around a number of real events and people – however, I only know that after a bit of Wikipedia-ing. An author’s note at the end would have been welcome, saying who was real and who was fictional.

There are some well-constructed characters here, not just Grand and Batchelor, but some of their allies such as Belle. However the grand scale of things is what let the tale down a bit for me.

I prefer my mysteries to have a tight focus, but Trow is determined to integrate as many aspects as possible. As such, the mystery element is somewhat meandering – it’s more historical noir than a whodunit – with certain important characters spending long periods off-page, meaning at times I had to flick back to remind myself who was doing what to who in the main plot.

It well worth a read for the setting and background, but I’d have preferred one or two less diversions from the main story. Worth A Look.


    • He also did a series about Inspector Lestrade in which Holmes was characterised early on a self-deluding idiot who gets in the way of Lestrade actually solving the crimes. I seem to recall particularly enjoying Brigade: The Further Adventures of Inspector Lestrade.


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