Written by Andrei Baltakmens
Published by Top Five Books
Review by Meredith Allard
Synopsis from the book:
In the fictional 18th-century city of Airenchester, England, the body of Thaddeus Grainger’s rival turns up stabbed to death in an alley just hours after their inconclusive duel. Only one suspect comes to mind. Charged with murder, Grainger’s fate is sealed before his trial even begins.
A young gentleman of means but of meaningless pursuits, Grainger is cast into the notorious Bellstrom Gaol, where he must quickly learn to survive in the filthy, ramshackle prison. The “Bells”—where debtors, gaolers, whores, thieves, and murderers all mix freely and where every privilege comes at a price—will be the young man’s home for the rest of his life unless he can prove his innocence.
Despite his downfall, his friends—the journalist William Quillby and Cassie Redruth, the poor young girl who owes Grainger a debt of gratitude—refuse to abandon him. But before they can win his freedom, they must contend with forces both inside and outside the prison determined to keep Grainger behind bars and, at the same time, decode the meaning behind the crude wax seal that inspires terror in those who know its portent.
Set against the urban backdrop of late 18th-century England, The Raven’s Seal unravels a tale of corruption, betrayal, murder, and—ultimately—redemption and love.
As a long-time Dickens fan, I loved the way Baltakmens used Dickens’ fiction as the basis for his murder mystery. Baltakmens channeled Dickens in every way in this novel, from his use of a thinly disguised London as the basis for the fictional town of Airenchester to his detail-rich nineteenth century-style language. Baltakmens brings Airenchester to life the way Dickens brought London alive—through descriptions so vivid you feel as though you’re standing alongside the characters. Also like Dickens, Baltakmens has created characters that are real and tangible as well as characters that are caricatures and yet still recognizable in their own ways. Baltakmens uses Dickensian-style names for his characters as well, such as Mrs. Scourish for a housekeeper and Quillby for a writer. Baltakmens does a fine balancing act as he takes what is wonderful about Dickens’ fiction and makes it easily manageable and enjoyable for a twenty-first century audience. The Dickens influence in the story is everywhere on every page. Fans of Charles Dickens’ stories, and those who love murder mysteries, will enjoy The Raven’s Seal.
Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.