The Pleasures of Men

By Kate Williams

The Short Take:

Dark and moody, this psychological thriller/mystery packs a powerful punch. Set in early Victorian England during a major financial depression, it follows a damaged young woman’s obsession with a series of ghastly murders. This is Williams’ first novel but you would never guess it. Drawing on her extensive historical background, she creates an intense  atmosphere of unease, class divide, and oppression.


Think The Heiress combined with Jack the Ripper and you’ll get the general idea. The central character, Catherine, an orphaned woman of 19 with a tragic past, seems to teeter on the edge of madness. Or has she already crossed over? Living with an eccentric uncle in a decaying neighborhood, her isolation and the restrictions placed on her seem extreme. Or are they warranted? With this novel everything is in doubt until the stunning climax. And, it is truly stunning.

Fear seeps through every page: Catherine’s all-encompassing fear, all London’s fears as businesses fail and fortunes disappear, and young women’s fears as the Man of Crows continues to prey on them. This is one dark mystery, alright, and almost impossible to put down.

Williams in-depth knowledge of the period brings a heightened sense of atmosphere and textural depth to her book. Catherine observes the small signs of decay the financial crisis brings to once-secure households. Her slippers can’t protect from the cold of the cobblestones. Men are a danger, because even though only one of them is the killer, they all hold sway over the world of women.

This novel will grasp you firmly, shake you up, and refuse to let go until the end. That’s what I call a satisfying read.

A Little Plot:

Catherine has recently come to live with her uncle, who decorates his shadowy home with African masks and other exotica. Convinced she carries evil in her, she is as awkward in company as she is in her own skin. When she hears about the bizarre murder of a shop girl — plaited her in her mouth, her chest cut open to reveal her heart — she becomes obsessed with the idea that she can identify the murderer.

As the body count increases, she writes the stories of the victims as well as that of their killer, sure she is getting closer to finding him. Then she decides that writing is not enough. She must do more.

For more about Kate Williams and her writings, click here.

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