The Price of Murder

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In this tenth entry in the Sir John Fielding mystery series, Bruce Alexander continues his meticulous reconstruction of the life and times of the British jurist (d. 1780), Magistrate of the Bow Street Court in the City of London. Fielding and his assistant, Jeremy Proctor, come upon a case of suspected child-selling in April, 1774, probe the underside of a notorious London slum, the Seven Dials, and foray into the world of professional horse racing as they piece together clues to solve the mystery of how a young girl’s body came to be dragged from the River Thames.

Using the novelistic conventions born in the eighteenth century, Alexander’s narrator, Jeremy, addresses the imagined “dear reader,” with familiarity and confidence, detailing the passages of his own life as “engaged to be engaged” to Clarissa, a maid who becomes cook in Sir John’s household, and of the lives of those touched by death in his quest to discover the truth behind the murder of little Maggie Plummer.

Jeremy leads the reader through the Hogarthian City of London and into the country at the horse-racing at Shepherd’s Bush and then the races at Newmarket as he deepened his involvement with the diminutive jockey Deuteronomy Plummer, the uncle of the slain girl, and worked with him in search of Alice Plummer, the girl’s mother. Jeremy’s excitement, and the novel’s, builds as the unlikely pair narrow the field of suspects and finally discover the highly-placed sexual predator who enslaved children, murdering any possible witnesses. Deuteronomy achieves his revenge and disappears, presumed dead, and Jeremy’s own fortune also improves as he bets judiciously at the races, inherits an improved position in the Court, and is drawn closer to marriage.