The Chinese Puzzle (Charles Dickens Investigations #8) by J.C. Briggs

‘This is a mystery of a particularly sensitive nature—a Chinese puzzle, you might say.’

London, 1 May 1851. At the opening of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations  a Chinese junk captain, posing as a mandarin envoy from the Celestial Court, manages to penetrate the security surrounding the Queen. Another Chinese man, initially thought to be associated with the ersatz mandarin, gets close to Queen Victoria and then disappears. Given the anarchist unrest and previous attempts on the Queen’s life, these incursions are taken very seriously. The Prime Minister orders an urgent, discreet, investigation. The investigation is allocated to Superintendent Sam Jones from Bow Street.

On the same day, Cornelius Mornay, a wealthy retired businessman from Canton goes missing. Could there be a connection?

Fortunately for Superintendent Jones, his good friend Charles Dickens is available to assist with his enquiries. Charles Dickens has several connections which may prove helpful. A few days later, Mr Mornay’s body is found in the river near Wapping. Foul play is suspected.

What follows is a convoluted journey through the mean streets of London: from the opium dens to the homes of the rich. Mr Mornay was once connected to the opium trade and seems to have had many secrets.

This is the eighth book in Ms Briggs’s ‘Charles Dickens Investigations Series’, and while it can be read as a standalone, the series is worth reading in order because of the development of the main characters. For me, these characters have become old friends. Readers of Charles Dicken’s novels will recognise the connections to some of the characters in his novels.

‘What a city for contrasts London was: the Queen in her palace of many rooms and the poor Chinese man in his opium den, and nothing to link them but two beating hearts.’

A thoroughly enjoyable addition to the series!

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Sapere Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith