REVIEW: Death Can Be Habit-Forming by Sheri Cobb South
Having resigned his position at Bow Street in disgrace (at least in his own mind) and failed in his attempt to establish himself as a private agent, John Pickett toils away at a tedious job as a clerk in the City. When he is approached by a man wishing to hire him to extract a young lady being held against her will at an asylum for opium-eaters, Pickett jumps at the chance to prove himself, and has a very reluctant Julia commit him to the institution as a patient. But nothing at the Larches is exactly as it seems, and while getting in may be easy, getting out may be another matter entirely…
Dear Ms. Cobb South,
You know that you have me as a captive audience, right? First I need to know what John and Julia, and now half brother Kit, are up to professionally. Secondly, fans are waiting with bated breath for The Blessed Event. Which at the end of this book I’m still waiting for! [insert sounds of gnashing of teeth and wails of dismay]
Poor John Pickett, late of Bow Street, is desperately trying to attract interest in his fledgling business. For weeks, he’s run ads in the better London newspapers offering discreet investigations for the sort of clientele willing to pay well for that discretion. Having at last realized he must seek other employment in order to maintain his pride and not live off his wealthy wife, he now sells his soul to sit and reconcile shipping invoices as a clerk. When a client finally appears, John leaps at the chance to kiss that goodbye.
Perhaps John leaps too quickly – well, Julia and I both thought so. After arriving at the private asylum (once a fine home whose family have now fallen on hard times) to rescue the young woman being held there, John proceeds to do a few things I wouldn’t have thought him capable of. After all, he was the golden boy of Mr. Colquhoun the Magistrate of Bow Street. John does begin to grasp the fact that being on one’s own in an inquiry without the power of Bow Street behind one can make a big difference not only to the resources at your command but also in your own mind.
Nevertheless John soldiers on and begins to see that not everything at the Larches is as he was told. John’s investigation proceeds but the way he learns some things and his thoughts on what he learns are given an interesting twist. It’s kind of telling but also showing at the same time and done rather cleverly. Did John see what he thought he saw, or not?
Meanwhile poor pregnant Julia who is to the stage of rolling out of bed and heaving herself up from sitting by use of the sofa arm, takes a bit of an active role. Go Julia! She’s also still running the household, entertaining her brother-in-law while trying to get that young lad placed in a school after he’s spent his entire life in the rookeries of London. I hope the Headmaster is ready for Kit.
As usual, I loved the little details of John and Julia’s life together – the good and the “we’re still ironing some things out in our marriage” – as well as the historical facts worked into the story. I did find myself a bit frustrated at some things about the investigation that made John seem (just a little) obtuse which I know – after reading eleven books now plus novellas – that he isn’t. For the cause of the plot, I guess. One emotional stab by the villain is shrewd and well placed so I won’t fault John’s reaction to it. I did simultaneously laugh and wince at what poor Harry Carson is required to do as the case is closed. The outcome of John’s efforts though, I can’t complain about those. And now I’m pleading that we – and John and Julia (bless her heart) will be put out of our waiting misery in book twelve. B