the scribe book coverReviewed by Caleb Shadis

I found The Scribe to be a surprise read. I expected a cozy mystery or maybe a Sherlockian type. What I found instead was a police officer chasing a serial killer in Atlanta, Georgia in the early  1880s. A killer to rival Jack the Ripper.

Our main protagonist, Thomas Canby, left Georgia under a dark cloud of suspicion as a corrupt cop. He’s given a chance to come back and clear his name. To be cleared of the libel against him is what draws him back. But after learning the facts of the case, and who he’s really working for, he wonders if it wouldn’t have been better to stay out in the sticks and let Atlanta deal with this without him.

Turns out the ‘Ring’, a group of influential people who make decisions about the goings of a shadow government, are the ones asking Canby to find the killer. These are the same people who had him falsely accused of accepting bribes years before. If he didn’t have such a drive to stop the killer for the sake of justice and any future victims, he would have told them all where to stick it.

Canby’s old boss, Vernon, assigns Underwood to be his partner in the investigation. Underwood is the first black man to make it to the force and since all the victims up to this point have been wealthy black men, Vernon hopes he will smooth things over with the people he will need to interview. To throw a little monkey in the wrench, Vernon mentions that he actually considers Underwood to be a suspect.

When the entire city is worried about the killer and the effect the murders will have on the attendance of the cotton fair, those in power want a guilty party. Unfortunately, the killer and chance put one in the path, and even though Canby knows the man is innocent, it does him no good. He’s a minority, he’s from the North and he’s easy to blame. And a couple witnesses seal the deal.

Canby is an interesting character. While his point of view is much closer to ours in attitudes toward non-whites, he still has plenty of prejudices to display. Making him a pretty real character. I was also surprised by how much of the book was left after the killer was caught. The killer was a true sadistic psychopath and intelligent as well as driven. In the end, he was a man you couldn’t wait for someone to kill. Good writing, good plot, good read. I will certainly try some more of Matthew Guinn’s books.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amateur woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by W.W. Norton & Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.