Today it’s my great pleasure to be taking part in the blog tour for Foul Trade, the new May Keaps novel from author BK Duncan and I’d like to wish the author a very happy publication day. My thanks go to Sarah Hardy for including me in the tour. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the book in just a moment after we’ve taken a look at what it is all about.
The Official Book Blurb
It is March 1920. May Keaps, the Poplar Coroner’s Officer, has never failed to provide a jury with sufficient evidence to arrive at a just verdict.
The poverty, drunken fights between visiting sailors, drug trafficking, and criminal gangs, haunting the shadows of the busiest docks in the world, mean that the Coroner sees more than its fair share of sudden and unnatural deaths.
May relishes the responsibility placed upon her but there are many who believe it’s an unsuitable job for a woman. Even May begins to wonder if that is the case when the discovery of a young man’s body, in a Limehouse alley, plunges her into an underworld of opium dens, gambling, turf wars, protection rackets and murder.
As her investigations draw her into danger, it becomes increasingly clear that whoever is responsible intends to avoid the hangman’s noose by arranging to have May laid out on one of her own mortuary slabs.
After reading the novella, The Last Post, which introduced the character May Keaps, I was really intrigued by her character and keen to read more about her, so the opportunity to read Foul Trade was one I couldn’t resist. To be honest, it’s a very interesting idea, a kind of early version of girl power with the irrepressible Miss Keaps taking the typically male dominated role of Coroner’s Officer in Poplar. I could tell from the novella that she was someone with a very strong personality and enquiring mind, traits which are used to full effect in this book.
Faced with the inquest into the death of a dancer by suspected overdose of cocaine, May cannot quite buy that this is a simple suicide and wants to know more. She is determined to uncover the truth about who is supplying the drugs, a quest which will see her come face to face with the charismatic Chinese entrepreneur, Brilliant Chang. When a young businessman is found beaten to death down on the docks, with further suspected links to the drugs trade, May takes it upon herself to conduct an investigation, helped in part by reported Jack Cahill, an investigation which places her in grave danger. How far she will go to find the truth is something you will need to read to find out, but needless to say that it is quite an action packed investigation.
I really liked the character of May Keaps. She is strong and determined, but also very much a young woman in a very difficult and masculine profession. She has been the main carer for her younger sister Alice who is now striving to find her place in the world, and it is clear that May would do anything to protect her. Alice is equally as headstrong as her sister, but where May had the war and her time spent working on the ambulances in France to level her head, Alice’s mind is still full of fancy. I really liked both of the young women, but can see that May has her hands full in keeping Alice on the straight and narrow, something which becomes all to apparent in this book. BUt really it is ay’s tenacity which makes this book so interesting. No matter the knocks, she gets back up and presses onward, and yet there is something very human and vulnerable about her. I could not help but root for her.
Author BK Duncan has done a really great job of recreating both the setting and the era in this novel. A lot of the action takes place in and around the docks, as well as some back street drug houses and gambling dens, and I could easily picture the scene as I read through the book. In terms of creating the feeling of the 1920’s, the sensibilities, the authentic tone of Alice and her language, as well as the formality of the Coroner’s and the natural courtesy of Brilliant Chang, all rang true. I am no expert on the era by a long chalk but it really fit the narrative and I felt like I was back there, experiencing the life on the streets and the docks. Even the vaudeville-esque feeling of the variety act felt real.
Despite this being set in the 1920’s, there was not lack of tension or action throughout the book, with May and Jack finding themselves in trouble on more than one occasion. Each time you feel like May should err on the side of caution and pass the investigation to the Police, but there would be no fun in that now would there? Each scrape she gets herself into sees the danger level’s rising. But just how far and how deadly these quests may be you’ll have to read for yourself.
I’ve really enjoyed this first full length foray into the world of May Keaps and look forward to seeing what our intrepid heroine gets herself into next. With her propensity for finding trouble at every turn, you know it’s going to be a whole lot of fun.
With thanks to publishers Bloodhound Books for providing an advance copy of the book for review. Foul Trade is available to purchase from the following retailers:
About the Author
BK Duncan is the pen name Ruth Wade has adopted for the May Keaps series of historical crime novels.
Born on a steam railway and brought up on the South Coast of England, such beginnings were destined to leave BK Duncan with a love of vintage transport, crashing seas, and Art Deco architecture.
Following a career encompassing developmental learning and change-management consultancy she now combines producing her own work with lecturing part-time in creative writing in colleges and academies in Cambridge and Oxford. Her two great passions are longbow archery and the Argentine Tango. Sadly, she is not nearly as accomplished at either as she’d like.
BK Duncan also writes historical crime novels as Ruth Wade
Make sure to take a look at some of the other brilliant blogs taking part in this tour.