Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson
The Innocents is second in a mystery series featuring the engaging heroine Minnie Ward, now a co-owner and manager of the Variety Palace Music Hall in Victorian London. The story opens fourteen years earlier in a different theatre, the Trafalgar, where a performance for children ends in a tragedy that echoes through the years.
Unaware of that previous disaster, Minnie is coping with the aftereffects of a more recent misfortune, which so traumatized Edward Tansford, the former Variety Palace manager, that he turned its management over to her. Bookkeeping, alas, is not Minnie’s great talent, but she understands of the music hall’s finances well enough to know it needs its next show to will make a big enough splash to keep it from failing. She also has enough common sense to feel wary when Tansford returns with a risky scheme involving a trap door and an even more complicated effect that could create a splash of a highly unprofitable nature.
If that were not enough, Tansford’s beloved pet monkey goes missing, the brother of a performer disappears, and a killer's henchman sneaks past the music hall’s security to threaten Minnie in her upstairs bedroom. Although the killer unmasked in the previous novel has been locked up, he continues to threaten the Variety Palace’s welfare. Minnie is driven to consult Albert Easterbrook, the private detective with whom she teamed up to solve the previous murders and to whom she continues to feel attracted, despite the awkwardness resulting from their different social class.
Greed and the ills that follow it is a theme in The Innocents, providing enough twists and turns to keep readers interested, even if the many threads of the plot can make it feel a bit scattered. The threads do come together in the end, and Minnie continues to be worthy of readers’ affection, so readers will likely look forward to number three in this series with one of the most original settings I've come across. (2024; 260 pages)