The Whispering Gallery is Mark Sanderson’s second book in a proposed trilogy featuring Fleet Street hack, John Steadman and his policeman best friend, Matt Turner. The setting is pre-war London, and Sanderson paints this picture with incredible skill. When I was a teenager, I read the classic Lensman (Sci-fi) series by E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith. These books were originally written and revised between the thirties and the fifties, and you can tell. Although Sci-fi, everything felt old-fashioned. Sanderson creates the same feel for me. His scene setting and description of atmosphere of ’30s London is pitch-perfect – so much so it feels as if he had written the book then and kept it under lock and key until now.
This is the second John Steadman book, but works well as a standalone novel. I haven’t read Snow Hill, but wasn’t confused by the periodic references to it – although I’m guessing Steadman’s confusion over his own sexuality is perhaps explored more fully there.
The novel takes place during a summer heatwave in 1937 and starts with Steadman waiting to propose to his girlfriend, Stella, in St. Paul’s Cathedral. His plans are interrupted by a man jumping (or was he pushed?) from the Whispering Gallery, killing both himself and the priest he lands on. Steadman’s journalist’s nose smells foul play, and more importantly, a story. His investigation coincides with receiving a series of increasingly macabre packages, each accompanied by a veiled threat. But John Steadman isn’t someone who lets his own safety get in the way of a good story.
The book is fast paced, yet allows time for character development – although this is something I hope Sanderson explores a little more in his third book. And did I mention atmosphere? Because if I did it was some time ago and I need to remind you of it. Sanderson’s writing is about as close to scratch ‘n’ sniff ’30s London as you’ll get. Unless someone produces a scratch ‘n’ sniff book, of course.
Great read. Buy it.