In Victorian era London, former rent boy Ira Adler is living the high life as ‘secretary’ to Cain Goddard, also known as the as the Duke of Dorset Street, a notorious crime lord, although his activities are kept well away from the genteel house on York Street where he has brought Ira to live. In the two years since Goddard invited him into his home, the illiterate child of the streets and workhouses has learned to read and write, and speak like a gentleman.
While Goddard generally shields his young lover from most of the details of his business, there’s one delicate matter that he can only trust to Ira. It seems that someone is blackmailing Cain, threatening to expose his ‘unnatural tendencies’. To thwart the blackmailer, Cain asks Ira to retrieve a statue, a porcelain dog, containing the incriminating evidence. If he fails, Ira could well end up in prison along with his mentor.
Quite early on in “The Affair of the Porcelain Dog” it becomes clear that this is no ordinary homage to the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his creation, Sherlock Holmes. Firstly, we have a story told from the point of view of the criminal, with Goddard, a doctor in fact, taking on the role of Moriarty. And then there’s the name of the hero of the piece, Ira Adler, a bad boy from the streets, who is maybe not quite so bad as even he thinks.
Like many good mysteries, especially one in the vein of Holmes, this book take a while to come to a boil as all the threads of the plot weave together. It starts out quickly enough, but it does take some time to pick up the pace. However, while there is a nice, convoluted mystery here in the grand tradition, the real puzzle of the story is Ira himself. Will he find a way to stay with his lover and protector, living the comfortable life he has become accustomed to, or will he find that he has to compromise too much of himself and what he believes to stay?