In the latest adventure in what is "fast becoming one of the genre's best historical-mystery series" (Booklist), roughhewn private enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn must track down London's first serial killer.
When Barker and Llewelyn are hired to find a girl from the upper classes who has gone missing in the East End, they assume her kidnapping is the work of white slavers. But when they discover five girls have been murdered in Bethnal Green, taunting letters begin to arrive in Craig's Court from a killer calling himself Mr. Miacca.
Barker fears that Miacca might be part of the Hellfire Club, a group of powerful, hedonistic aristocrats performing Satanic rituals. He must track the fiend to his hideout, while Llewelyn confronts the man who put him in prison.
Dodging muckrakers, navigating the murky Thames under cover of darkness, and infiltrating London's most powerful secret society, The Hellfire Conspiracy is another wild ride that "brings to life a London roiling with secret leagues, deadly organizations, and hidden clubs" (Ron Bernas, Detroit Free Press).
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Reading Guide The Hellfire Conspiracy by Will Thomas
Questions for Discussion
The Hellfire Conspiracy opens with Major Trevor Devere of her Majesty's Horse Guard unceremoniously forcing his way into private inquiry agent Cyrus Barker's office. Why is the Major upset? How does Barker get the Major to "shape up" before he suffers a complete breakdown?
With what kind of tone does our narrator, Thomas Llewelyn, assistant to Cyrus Barker, use when describing the opening events? What does Thomas's tone reveal about him? What words would you use to describe Thomas from the way he tells the story?
Why is it called "white slavery?" How does it differ from any other slavery? Discuss why this is or isn't a racist phrase in 1885.
When Thomas mentions the legal age of consent -- 13 years old -- were you surprised? What does legal age of consent mean? Does the meaning differ today as compared to in 1885? What age should the legal age of consent be? Why is it not 13 years old today?
What reason does Barker give Thomas when he asks why the government doesn't put an end to white slavery? What does Barker's answer tell you about his beliefs about class and social justice?
William Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, is also investigating the disappearance of young girl's. What is the goal of his investigation and how does it differ from Barker and Thomas's and the police's goals? What happens to Stead in the end?
How does the rivalry between Scotland Yard, the Thames Police and the Metropolitan Police influence the plot? Do similar rivalries exist between governmental service groups today?
What is the common factor among the girls who have gone missing? How does this lead Barker to the murderer? Are you surprised when you learn who the murderer is? Were there clues provided prior to the revelation? If so, what were they?
Each installment in Will Thomas's series of books reveals a little more about Thomas's past. What new fact do we learn about Thomas's past in The Hellfire Conspiracy?
What do you think about journalism that has a social goal behind it -- can it be unbiased as journalism is supposed to strive to be? Does this type of journalism have a legitimate place in the greater arena of news reporting?
Book Club Tips:
Visit willthomas.com and share some of what you've learned about Thomas at the meeting.
Read the previous Barker and Llewelyn books chronologically and discuss how the characters change and what keeps them interesting to you.
Read some of Edmund Lear's tales and see if you can find hints of the strong-willed character presented in The Hellfire Conspiracy in them.
Discuss who should play each of the characters in the film version of The Hellfire Conspiracy and why.
Find an English-style pub in your town and hold your meeting there.
Will Thomas is the author of theBarker and Llewelyn series, a series of mystery novels set in Victorian England. The first novel in the series was nominated for a Barry Award and a Shamus Award, and won the 2005 Oklahoma Book Award. He lives with his family in Oklahoma.