Victorian London had Jack the Ripper. Georgian Dublin had the Dolocher…
The Dolocher is stalking the alleyways of Dublin. Half man, half pig, this terrifying creature has unleashed panic on the streets. Can it really be the evil spirit of a murderer who has cheated the hangman’s noose by taking his own life in his prison cell, depriving the mob of their rightful revenge? Or is there some other strange supernatural explanation?
This terror has come at the perfect time for down-at-heel writer Solomon Fish. With his new broadsheet reporting ever more gruesome stories of the mysterious Dolocher, sales are growing daily and fuelling the city’s fear. But when the Dolocher starts killing and Solomon himself is set upon, he realises that there’s more to the story than he could ever have imagined.
With the help of his fearless landlady, ship’s surgeon-turned-apothecary Merriment O’Grady, Solomon goes after the Dolocher. Torn between reason and superstition, they must hold their nerve as everyone around them loses theirs. But are they hunting the Dolocher or is the Dolocher hunting them?(Goodreads)
Seely Booth and Temperance “Bones” Brennan, Richard Castle and Kate Becket, Eve Dallas and Roarke and now I can add Solomon Fish and Merriment O’Grady to the list of fictional couples, who solve crimes as a pairing that I can root for. True, The Dolocher is set in Georgian Dublin and neither party is in law enforcement, it doesn’t mean that these two characters are as different as chalk and cheese.
What also made this book so enjoyable to read, is the fact that Barry has created a plot that uses the menace plaguing Dublin to look deeper into a number of universal themes; such as faith verses science, how hysteria is fuelled by the media and the idea of “personal demons”. It is cleverly handled and I was so engrossed in the theological aspects relating to “The Dolocher”, that I was not paying attention to the mystery on if this terror was a man and if so, who the possible culprits could be. Even during the last few chapters of the book, when the “culprit” was identified, I didn’t think to question the reasoning behind why they were guilty.
It was during the court scene that I was brought back to the story that Merriment recounted to her new charge, Janey March about the fact that during her time at sea, the crew had lynched a sailor who they saw as the cause of all their troubles. The crowd in the court seemed to echo what happened aboard the ship, not caring that the accused protested his innocence and the evidence was based on here-say and circumstantial evidence. Before the accused had even set foot in the court, he had been tried and found guilty and nothing could dissuade the masses from their decision. The brutality in which they were “executed” was harrowing to read and I couldn’t help but think that Solomon was part of the problem, due to the stories he printed and distributed, first independently and then through an established publisher. With the expanded readership, the paranoia and hysteria seemed to grow and it made me think more about the power of the press.
In the last few chapters, there were a few surprises and twists that I didn’t see coming. One of these really did take me by surprise and I was shocked and saddened at the fate of this character for I had become rather fond of them. It was a bold move and it increased the urgency in unmasking the true perpetrator of the crimes.
As for the main characters, I found Merriment in particular, a really refreshing female character in this genre. The woman, who is more comfortable or at least finds herself more suited to a man’s role in society, is one that I have seen in Steampunk books. Merriment is a former ship’s surgeon, who has decided to settle on land and open an apothecary store in Dublin. She has chosen to wear men’s clothing as she had all but hid in plain sight on the ship as a man and chooses to continue this in Dublin.
She was one of my favourite characters in the book and the fact that though she is a woman of science, she keeps an open mind when her beliefs are challenged by The Dolocher. True, this is at a time when science was at its infancy, you could tell how these two warring ideas were doing battle and still did battle at the end of the book.
My second favourite book has to be Janey March, the eight year old girl who Merriment ends up taking in as an assistant at first, but soon grows very attached to. Though she has had a difficult life, it hasn’t tainted her curiosity and her straight talking. Janey is such a refreshing character and brings the best out of all the people she meets. She has a natural flair for selling and is responsible for the increase in business at Merriment’s shop. She really is a diamond in the rough.
As for Solomon, I feel he is still very much a work in progress. It is true that Merriment, Janey and his assistant Corker, who illustrates his stories, all help him in moving on from the demons in his past, he still seems like he could slip into his old way’s, even though he maintains that The Dolocher has made him change his ways. I also feel that he is in part responsible for the hysteria surrounding the public’s reaction to The Dolocher. Although gossip and hearsay can add to this level of panic, the pamphlets and broadsheets no doubt had a big impact. Even when Solomon and those he knew were targeted by The Dolocher, he still wrote stories about them, embroidering details. I understand why he had to make this endeavour a success, but at what cost.
Throughout these incidents, an attraction grows between Merriment and Solomon, and I’ll be honest, I did hope that they would get over the shadows of their past loves. They seemed a good fit and seemed to complement each other. Even when Solomon sought the charms of doxies, I felt that this was just due to the fact he was scared of his feelings. I was pleased that they did get together and I am hoping that there may be another book featuring these characters as there is still much to explore.
The Dolocher is a great historical mystery, which is subtle resolved. Where Barry’s true talent lies is in the human condition and how an idea can take root within society. Reason battles with superstition and fear, till it boils over.
This was a really interesting read and I look forward to seeing what Barry will write next, whether it is a continuation of these characters lives or a new set of characters.