Title: The Colours of Corruption
Author: Jacqueline Jacques
Genre: Historical fiction, thriller
Publisher: Honno Press
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Number of pages: 312
First line: Archie touched his tongue to his lips.
Goodreads blurb: In 1893, a desperately poor cleaner named Mary becomes witness to a murder. Archie, one of the first artists to work for the police, draws the man she says she saw at the scene. Fascinated by Mary’s own features, Archie persuades her to sit for a portrait, but the man who buys the picture really wants to buy Mary. When he realizes he’s betrayed her, Archie takes Mary to hide with his friends without realizing the gravity of the link she provides between his wealthiest clients, the poorest slums, terrible secrets, and a violent thug now looking for him: the very man Mary described to the police. As this gripping thriller uncoils, it paints an intricate, vibrant picture of the layers of Victorian London, where the poor are commodities, criminals have nothing to lose, and the rich can buy anything.
The Colours of Corruption is the kind of historical fiction that pulls you right into its world, and makes it hard to come up for air, because you just want to read one more page. I was fascinated with the idea of an artist working with the police. For some reason, I was under the impression that sketch artists were a relatively new idea. Archie is a working artist, one who longs for that one great commission that will set his career for life, but in the meantime, takes jobs doing theater posters, advertisements, courtroom sketches – and yes, witness sketches. He has to pay the bills, right?
I like mysteries set in this time period, because so much of what we take for granted in criminal investigation was new. Fingerprinting was just starting to be used as a way to identify suspects. Some of this comes into the story in The Colours of Corruption, as well as the idea of Archie working “undercover.”
This isn’t just a straight thriller, though – Jacques deals with some of the issues of the time, as well, such as poverty, the plight of women, and human trafficking. The characters are well-drawn, and I was pleasantly surprised by one twist at the ending. I look forward to reading more historical fiction from this author.