“City of Dreadful Night” is the title of a poem written by Scottish poet, James Thomson. He began writing the poem in 1870 and finished it three years later. It is the work of a man who is a pessimist, a man who sees little, if anything, positive about the world around him. The city of the poem is London as viewed by a man who has lost his faith and is unable to go beyond his own melancholy to look at the life around him.
The poem is available on Wikipedia and, in the comments about the poem, George Saintsbury wrote “what saves Thomson is the perfection with which he expresses the negative and hopeless side of the sense of mystery….”
Most mystery fanatics want resolutions for the problems that are thrown at the characters especially when most of the characters are likeable. Robert Watts, chief constable, Sarah Gilchrist, sergeant in the police, Kate Simpson, radio journalist, and James Tingley are decent people in their own ways. Resolutions do not come easily in CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT.
In this book , the city is Brighton, long a destination for those seeking the sea, entertainment, and escape. The book begins with news reports of the discovery of the torso of a woman’s body in a trunk in the Left Luggage area of Brighton Central Railway Station. The legs are discovered at the King’s Cross Station Luggage Office. It is July, 1934.
The Milldean housing estate in Brighton was a dangerous place for anyone. On a hot afternoon, members of the Brighton police force are ready for an assault on one of the residences. “Information was received from an impeccable source. A violent criminal, wanted for two shootings and suspicion of involvement in three others, was holed up in a house in Milldean before crossing to France tomorrow. He was known to be armed and dangerous….I approved an operation to enter the premises forcibly and arrest him.” But nothing is as it is supposed to be and four people die. A riot ensues and the police are the enemy. It is July, 2009.
At a press conference, Chief Constable Robert Watts announces, prematurely, that he is backing his troops unquestioningly. It does not take long for Watts to be asked to resign since, technically, the police were operating under his direction even though he was not present. It also does not take long for Watts to realize he has been set up. Watts is determined to clear his name and he joins forces with Kate Simpson and James Tingley, a shadowy man from a shadowy organization.
The story changes time periods smoothly; the reader is never in doubt about which year they are in. The transitions flow so neither part of the story is allowed to be forgotten.
Saintsbury’s comment about the negative side of mystery is a perfect summary of CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT. It doesn’t end with the good guys riding off into the sunset and the bad guys riding on a rail. In fact, it doesn’t end. Guttridge conceived this as the first part of a trilogy. Happily, the second book, THE LAST KING OF BRIGHTON, is due to be published in early June. This is a series that must be read in order. It is unlike most other series, with characters whose faults have serious consequences but who are trying to do the right thing. In the hands of another writer, the failure to resolve the mysteries might very likely persuade the reader that a follow-up to the story would be a waste of more reading time. But the reader realizes, as the threads come together and then split apart again and again, that the full story can’t be confined to one book. The reader will sign on for the long haul more than willingly.