British born Catherine Webb is a phenomenally gifted young writer, author of five other fantasy stories and now this one too, all by the age of 19. She writes highly coloured prose that while always threatening to steer towards the nearest cliché somehow manages to avoid it at the last moment. She has excellent descriptive powers, conjuring up an unsettling picture here of 19th-century London in all its filth and crime. Her detective Horatio Lyle possesses authentic-sounding Sherlock Holmes-type powers of deduction, and his cockney sidekick teenager Tess has all the sparky humour of Joan Aiken’s great character Dido Twite. Their joint search for some missing treasures looted from the Bank of England rattles along with style and pace.
But there are also problems with such enviable facility. Webb is already so good that it might be difficult for her now to get much better. Rather than hewing her works out of hard matter, she gives the impression of simply letting her talents run on effortless tap. And while this is all right for some of the time, there are moments in this story when events finally fail to convince and characters start selling themselves seriously short. With a sequel to this story already announced, there seems no stopping this young talent from succeeding again at what she does so well. But it would be a shame if this also makes her able to keep putting off the moment when she could start demanding even more of herself and of her many readers.