Monday, May 14, 2018

Book Review: The Secrets of the Lazarus Club by Tony Pollard

The Lazarus Club is a fictional society of great Victorian minds, which include Brunel, Babbage & Stephenson, formed to share and bring together progressive and revolutionary ideas in their respective fields; an innocent and stuffy sounding group but one that has secret aims and rivalries that lead to murder. In author Tony Pollard's first work of fiction Dr George Phillips is invited to join this group of high-achievers but is used as a pawn, from the very beginning, by Isambard Kingdom Brunel to further his secret ambition to construct a world-changing piece of apparatus, an invention that others want to obtain for a much more sinister aim.

This historical thriller is full of intrigue, capturing perfectly the atmosphere of the time in Victorian dockyards, hospitals and the sickly River Thames, transporting the reader to those places in that time while weaving a gripping tale that, at times, is reminiscent of Dickens or Conan-Doyle but in a style that caters to modern readers.

With its first-person narrative this book effects old-fashioned, by-the-fireside storytelling taking the reader back in time to feel like a witness to events alongside characters who are well-defined by their time period. Although many of the characters are well-known names from history, the main protagonist is entirely fictional which allows him to proceed through the story unencumbered by historical fact, although there are a number of real events which form a backdrop to the tale. All the main characters are interesting, at times conniving, and most-importantly, they are fallible; in other words, believable as real people with faults and fears rather than the brand of literary hero that is the master of hundreds of fields of expertise, with the looks of a model and the physique of an Olympic athlete.

The plot of this book has plenty of twists and turns that leaves the reader guessing and turning the page for more by starting slowly, setting the scene of the time before gradually developing into a scene-by-scene action adventure in the style of John Buchan's 39 Steps. In fact this may be the book's only real fault in that there are perhaps one too many false endings consisting of night-time secret escapades; it would have been better to have wrapped the story up a little more succinctly. However, this small failing does not really spoil an entertaining and well-written story.

Containing, as it does, characters of science, medicine and engineering there are inevitably references to technical issues relating to those fields but the author does an excellent job of relating only the basics that are needed for the reader to understand and completely avoids getting bogged down in uninteresting and confusing jargon or techno-speak that can really spoil a story. Indeed, the lack of details for the object which is the main focus of the plot only serves to heighten the intrigue and reflect the characters' lack of complete understanding of what is happening with the details slowly being revealed to both.

Essentially, this is a thriller in which the bad guys and the good guys are slowly revealed, culminating in chase and thievery whereby the pendulum of fortune swings between the two sets of protagonists. In this first novel Tony Pollard shows himself to be a very good writer and it is not hard to imagine this book being adapted into a movie.

The Secrets of the Lazarus Club is recommended to all those readers who enjoy old-fashioned story-telling and particularly those who like the atmosphere that well-written books set in Victorian London manage to achieve. While a sequel would be desirable, the author's talents certainly seem to be capable of one, it is worth noting that the book entitled "The Minutes of the Lazarus Club" is in fact an early print of the same tale, not a follow-up title.

Score: 9/10

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