OK, pay attention. Jack Blackjack, denizen of Queen Mary’s London, is a rogue who has landed himself a rather unsuitable job, namely an assassin for John Blount, a supporter of Princess Elizabeth. The reason that it’s unsuitable is that Jack is no killer – in fact, the idea of murder is anathema to him – but so far, he’s mostly gotten away with it. But events are once again conspiring against him.
When he is tasked by Blount with an assassination, Jack has an outstanding idea – outsourcing it to a partner, one with no qualms of murder. All seems set up, but while Jack is carousing and setting up his alibi, he receives a message from Blount – don’t go through with the assassination. A desperate dash through the city leads to Jack intercepting his partner, but then accidentally killing the intended victim anyway. So not only has Jack disobeyed his paymaster’s orders, he also happens to have another body to deal with, that of a Spanish visitor who was killed while in Jack’s company – and that Spaniard had some angry friends with some very sharp swords…
A Missed Murder is the third Jack Blackjack mystery from Michael Jecks, following Rebellion’s Message and A Murder Too Soon, and it’s a fascinating blend of genres. It’s an historical novel. It’s a murder mystery. It’s a spy thriller. It’s an adventure. It’s a comic romp (sort of). And on each of these levels, it works a treat.
After a complex flashback-within-a-flashback set-up, the story of Jack’s stunningly awful luck – some of it admittedly self-inflicted – is a real page-turner. It’s quite different from the Knights Templar series, with Jecks choosing to replace one of the strengths of that series, namely the telling of the story by showing the points of view of multiple characters, with first person narration. It was a risk to take, I think, but it pays off wonderfully. Jack is a complex character – it’s not easy for the reader to emphasise with a fairly amoral individual. Jack is no rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold, he is governed almost entirely by self-preservation, money and sex. But somehow Michael pulls it off – I was completely caught up in Jack’s predicament.
There’s a fascinating collection of characters along the way, mostly members of London’s underworld, and despite everything being, as I said, from Jack’s point of view, they still come across as fully developed individuals. One in particular caught my (and Jack’s) eye, Agnis, a messenger from Blount. It would be very easy to present her as a stereotype with a predictable outcome for her tale, but there are developments in the later part of her particular tale that reminds you that for all the unlikely goings-on, the characters still behave as real people would behave in the situations that they find themselves in.
It’s not a traditional mystery, but there is a whodunit element in the plot, and not just concerning the dead Spaniard. It’s a read that is both satisfying and entertaining. And of course, it is Highly Recommended.
A Missed Murder is out on 31st August from Severn House – many thanks for the review e-copy.