Sebastian Becker’s position as Special Investigator for the British Crown requires a subtle touch: gathering evidence that determines whether or not someone is a Chancery Lunatic—afflicted with madness making them unfit to manage their fortunes—without tipping the hand of those whose resources often make them above the law.
In the aftermath of a fiery tragedy that leaves dozens dead and England’s leaders maneuvering for an answer to stave off political ramifications, former police detective Becker is called upon to utilize his intimacy with the insane, and familiarity with working in the shadows.
Tasked with evaluating the sanity of the confessed arsonist—Wild West Showman ‘The Authentic William James’—Becker travels from the shores of Sussex to the film studios of Hollywood. Delving into the circus world to unravel the mystery of a man who admits guilt and flees will pit Becker’s appointed role to do his country’s bidding against his compassion to do what is right for a family.
Stephen Gallagher is the author of Out of His Mind, the winner of the British Fantasy award. His work has been adapted to many on-screen treatments, and he has written for Doctor Who and Crusoe. In his third Sebastian Becker novel, Gallagher once again shows his ability to create a suspenseful thriller through the wry voice of his protagonist.
British author Gallagher gives Sebastian Becker another puzzle worthy of his quirky sleuth's acumen in his outstanding third pre-WWI mystery (after 2012's The Bedlam Detective). As the special investigator to the Lord Chancellor's Visitor in Lunacy, Becker is charged with investigating "the psychology of anyone with a fortune or an income that might be put at risk by their erratic behavior." When a fatal arson at a Sussex theater claims the life of a German prince, Becker's superior is eager for him to demolish any claim that the prime suspect, showman William James, was insane when he set the fire. After meeting James, Becker is prepared to give some credence to the man's claims of innocence. That comes back to haunt him when James manipulates him into facilitating his escape, leading the detective on a search for the fugitive and the truth that takes him to Pennsylvania and an apparent dead end. Gallagher makes the most of his unusual concept in the service of a twisty but logical plot line.