The House On Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve
Review copy – netgalley
Everyone has a secret… Only some lead to murder. Introducing Leo Stanhope: a Victorian transgender coroner’s assistant who must uncover a killer without risking his own future
Leo Stanhope. Avid chess player; assistant to a London coroner; in love with Maria; and hiding a very big secret.
For Leo was born Charlotte, the daughter of a respectable reverend. But knowing he was meant to be a man – despite the evidence of his body – and unable to cope with living a lie any longer, he fled his family home at just fifteen and has been living as Leo: his secret known to only a few trusted people. But then Maria is found dead and Leo is accused of her murder. Desperate to find her killer and under suspicion from all those around him, he stands to lose not just the woman he loves, but his freedom and, ultimately, his life.
A wonderfully atmospheric debut, rich in character and setting, in The House on Half Moon Street Alex Reeve has created a world that crime readers will want to return to again and again
The House On Half Moon Street is a debut novel and #1 in the Leo Stanhope series. This series is set in Victorian London 1880. What makes this historical crime fiction novel so unique, is that Leo was born female. Now, this is not to be confused with Leo masquerading as a male in-order to pursue a career. As did occur within the historical era, due to the opportunities and privileges not afforded to women. Leo truly is transgender, he fully believes he was born in the wrong body. He made the decision to live as a man in his teens and fled his religious upbringing to pursue life, living as he truly believes he is. A man.
‘I’d rather be dead than be Lottie Pritchard’ – Leo
The novel opens at the coroner’s officer of Mr Hurst, an ironic surname, I’ll give you that much! But Leo is assisting with the autopsy of a young man, named Jack flowers. His death is ruled an accident, likely alcohol induced.
This opening gives you an insight into the way Leo’s mind works and how he has an instinct similar to a detective. He is inquisitive and asks questions.
Leo lives above a pharmacy in Soho, with a widowed landlord Alfie and his young daughter Constance. Their lives are plagued by poverty and living on the fringes of the workhouse. I felt this additional information about background characters really added to the historical feel of the novel.
You can’t escape the Victorian London smog, poverty and whole feel to the novel.
It isn’t long until we are through the doors of Elizabeth Brafton’s Brothel, on Half Moon Street. Where Leo meets with Maria every week for a 2hr appointment. Only on this occasion he asks Maria on a date, to the opera, the coming Saturday at 2pm.
“I love you, my Leo” – Maria
‘It was me she loved’ – Leo
On Thursday Leo attends his usual chess club meeting with friend and confidant Jacob. Jacob is distrustful of Maria and warns Leo of the dangers of trusting or falling for a woman like her. Due to his inebriated state, his warnings fall upon deaf ears.
For Leo is a man in love.
On Saturday Leo arrives at the opera and Maria is a no-show. Leaving a very sad and deflated Leo to watch the opera alone. When he arrives the next morning at work, it is to the discovery of a burglary. But what is there to steal in a mortuary? When the body for autopsy is wheeled in, Leo passes out! For the body on the slab, is non other than his beloved Maria. . . .
Leo can’t face work and takes several days off sick. He is roused from his grief when two police officers arrive to take him to the station. Leo begins to fear his secret will be uncovered. Detective Sgt Ripley tries to prise some facts from Leo, but it becomes evident Leo actually knows very little about Maria. After an eventful night in the cells, with Leo on the verge of confessing his sexuality.
He is finally released. But that doesn’t solve the mystery of who killed Maria?
Leo attends Maria’s funeral where he has to face some harsh truths. It is revealed that Maria told many lies to Leo, even her real-name. Maria’s fellow working girl Audrey attempts to offer some words of condolence and faith in Leo. But it is the mysterious Madame Louisa Moreau that grabs his interest. She offers Leo her card and gives the impression she may have more information.
‘Takes a man to do something like that, and you’re a woman underneath’ – Audrey
Due to missing so many days at work, Leo is demoted. He cares very little about this, as Maria’s murder torments his mind over and over again. He decides it is time to meet the elusive Madame Moreau. Louisa is a back-street abortionist. she openly challenges Leo on his decision to live as a man, which makes for intriguing conversation. Up until now, no one has challenged Leo on how he chooses to live his life. Mostly due to him living in near complete secrecy. I found Louisa fascinating, but the only information she holds is Maria may/may not have had a soldier as a lover, possibly an officer.
‘Why should I seem other than what I am?’ – Leo Stanhope
With little to go and no real authority to investigate. Leo must think on his feet, using his access to hospital records and ability to impersonate a police officer.
Leo pursues his own case, he is determined to reveal Maria’s killer.
There are various themes within this novel. The theme of gender roles in Victorian society, being transgender and being forced to live in secrecy. Also, the role of sex work in Victorian London, which many women did as a means to survive. There is a great twist at the end, that completely fooled me!
I am thoroughly impressed with the authors skills to weave a clever tale and look forward to the next instalment in the Leo Stanhope series.
Leo Stanhope is a brilliant protagonist and I personally think the series will thrive
The House On Half Moon Street was released yesterday!
Happy publication day Alex Reeve!