No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

2018/39: Unfit to Print -- K J Charles

The Strand was a wide thoroughfare with imposing tall frontages, fit for the capital of empire; Holywell Street was its disreputable, drink-sodden uncle with his trouser buttons undone. [loc. 479]
Vikram Pandey and Gil Lawes were best friends (with benefits) at school: then, halfway through term, Gil was taken out of school, and Vikram never saw or heard from him again.

Unfit to Print picks up the story thirteen years later, when Vikram, now a crusading Indian lawyer, encounters one Gil Lawless -- what better surname for the disinherited bastard son of the Lawes family? -- running a bookshop in Holywell Street. Vikram is in search of a missing Indian youth who'd been photographed by a professional before his disappearance: Gil has recently come into possession of a family legacy of pornography.

It's a second chance for both of them. Vikram hasn't really bothered with relationships, focussing his energies on his work as a defender of the poor and non-white who find themselves on the receiving end of Victorian inequality. Gil has vowed never to trust anyone again (except possibly his cat, Satan) after being disinherited and lied to by his family. Vikram is overly serious: Gil, overly detached.

As usual in Charles' novels (though this is more of a novella), the historical detail is rich and fascinating, and the 'public' side of the plot, the mystery of the missing Sunil Gupta, not too grim. There's also plenty of humour ('Vik. Mate. When you look at dirty pictures, you’re not meant to be thinking about the curtains.") and some sly references to Charles' other novels (Mrs Swann; the enquiry agent in Robin Hood Yard ...). This was an enjoyable read, though the romance was less blazingly romantic than in, say, the 'Sins of the Cities' books.

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