The Pleasures of Men is a dark, gritty story of a young, awkward woman, a serial killer seeking out underprivileged girls in London and how the two ultimately come to affect each other’s actions. As the story unfolds slowly a foreboding and creepy feeling permeates the pages and does not let up, even as the reader turns the final page.
In the summer of 1840, Catherine Sorgeiul is living with her uncle in an eastern part of London that was once thriving but has now fallen into disrepair. Desperately trying not to dwell on the painful past that ultimately left her an orphan, Catherine tries to fit in with the upper class society her uncle introduces her to but comes across as awkward, reserved and nervous. Her uncle keeps her under close watch and refuses to let her outside the house unless properly accompanied as he feels the dirty, destitute, crime-ridden streets of Victorian London is no place for a young lady. So, feeling trapped and alone, Catherine has no choice but to either interact with society or sit in her parlor and fight back the demons in her mind that refuse to give her peace.
When a murderer, nicknamed the Man of Crows, begins brutally murdering poor, young women not far from where Catherine lives, she becomes obsessed with the murders and begins writing stories about the victims as well as the Man of Crows. She hopes to not only discover his motives but to assist in getting him caught and, in turn, absolve some of the guilt she has harbored for so long regarding her actions as a child that helped lead to the downfall of her family.
As the heat of the summer and the paranoia surrounding these events intensifies, the murders continue. Catherine works to get farther into the mind of this sadistic madman and, in the process, unwittingly draws him closer and closer to her and those around her. When those close to her become victims of the Man of Crows and she discovers someone has been coming into her home and reading her stories, she isn’t sure who to trust. Her only hope is to find out who the murderer is before more people get hurt but what she discovers is that no one is who they seem.
The Pleasures of Men is exactly what I would picture a good gothic Victorian novel to be. It’s dark, dirty and ominous and while the author does describe how the victims of the Man of Crows are murdered it is not done in such a graphic, gory way as to be cringe worthy. The description of the desperation and poverty of the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign really helps to solidify the panic and fear that the people of London experienced in their everyday lives as well as when the murders happened. The strict division of the classes as well as the restrictions placed on women at that time was also well described and really gives a feeling of overall oppression and a need to break free.
My only complaint with The Pleasures of Men is that, at times, the descriptive nature was so florid that I had trouble figuring out exactly what the author was trying to say. This was especially true when exploring the inner workings of Catherine’s increasingly disturbed mind and her feelings and made it hard for me to stay present in the story and not stop and ponder what was going on. I would have been able to stay more enmeshed with the storyline if the descriptions were more direct at those times.
What impressed me the most with the story was the fact that I had no idea who the Man of Crows was until he identified himself. My mind kept swirling around a variety of candidates and just when I thought I had it figured out something would happen and that person would be shown not to be the killer. Being someone who can usually figure out the ending before it occurs I was really impressed with the way the author unfolded the plot and finally revealed the killer. I also liked that the story ends in a way that leaves the reader unsure of the future of the main characters or whether they will ever truly be free from their various demons.
I think anyone who likes a good suspenseful murder mystery, novels set in Victorian London or a book that tests your perception of good and evil will enjoy The Pleasures of Men. I would definitely be interested in seeing what this author came up with next.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Voice. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.