In The Limehouse Text, Barker and Llewelyn discover a pawn ticket among the effects of Barker's late assistant, leading them to London's Chinese district, Limehouse. There they retrieve an innocent-looking book that proves to be a rare and secret text stolen from a Nanking monastery. When they take it to Ho, Barker's favorite restaurateur, for inspection, they discover that it contains lethal martial arts techniques forbidden to the West. With the political situation between the British Empire and Imperial China already precarious, the duo must safeguard the text from a snarl of suspects with conflicting interests -- and track down a killer intent upon gaining the secret knowledge.
Prowling through an underworld of opium dens, back-room blood sports, and sailors' penny hangs while avoiding the wrath of the district's powerful warlord, Mr. K'ing, Barker and Llewelyn take readers on a perilous tour through the mean streets of turn-of-the-century London.
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Group Reading Guide The Limehouse Text Will Thomas
Questions for Discussion
During the opening sequence in the prologue, our narrator's employer is about to engage in a brutal fight to the death that the narrator blames himself for causing. How does the prologue set the tone for the rest of The Limehouse Text? Does the tone and your feelings about the narrator change from beginning to the end? If so, in what ways?
In the first chapter, we learn that Quong, private enquiry agent Cyrus Barker's first assistant, had been murdered by a bullet through his forehead one year prior. Is it surprising that Llewelyn is not more concerned about his own well-being, given the fate of his predecessor? Why or why not? Why is Barker particularly driven to find Quong's killer?
Describe the relationship between Llewelyn and Barker. How is it similar to and/or different from Sherlock and Dr. Watson? Why doesn't Barker tell Thomas more about what they are investigating? How does it affect the narrative power to find out answers to the mystery at the same time that Thomas does?
How does setting The Limehouse Text in London's Chinatown add to the atmosphere of the narrative? Why do you think the author chose this locale? Are you surprised to hear that there are only 500 to 600 Chinese in London, a major hub of commerce and the British Navy, at this time in history? Why or why not?
Bainbridge's last words are, ". . . all these Orientals are natural born liars. They never say what they really mean and you never can know what they're thinking. They'd turn a laundry list into a mystery." Does this stereotype toward Asians still exist today? Was the author sending a message about the dangers of racism by immediately killing off Bainbridge after he utters these words?
Why do you think Barker insists on being called a "private enquiry agent" versus "detective?" What is the difference between the two and what does it reveal about Barker?
What is Jimmy Woo's role in the narrative of The Limehouse Text? What qualities make him seem untrustworthy from the moment he is introduced?
Inspector Bainbridge, before he is murdered, comments, "The Holy Bible is a book. The Koran is a book. Right now in the Sudan, men are killing each other over both of them." Why do you think the author included this information? Does it make you think about recent political situations in the Middle East?
How is Barker's friendship with Inspector Poole tested in The Limehouse Text? Was it proper for Barker to conceal the existence of the book from Poole? Why or why not?
How does the intensity of the story change when attempts on Barker's and his associates' lives are made from within his own house? How does the introduction of Madame and Etienne Drummolard affect the timbre of the story?
Are you surprised at the person Barker chooses to courier the text? Why does he choose whom he does?
What do we learn about Barker and Llewelyn by the finish of the story that we didn't know before -- how do their characters become more illuminated by the mystery they solve and the adventures they endure? How does their relationship change?
Book Club Tips:
Watch a classic Sherlock Holmes film and compare the relationship between Holmes and Watson to Barker and Llewelyn's.
Read all three of the Barker and Llewelyn books in a row and discuss how the characters develop as the stories build upon each other.
The books in this series could very easily become movies. Who should play each of the characters in the film versions and why?
Devour a Chinese feast while you discuss the various characters. Or conversely, serve high English tea to set a British ambiance for your group.
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.