The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

September 14, 2007

Book review: Tulsa author stocks mysteries with complex characters

As a genre, mysteries have never really appealed to me; I find most of them formulaic, predictable, and, to be honest, boring. There are a few I’ve enjoyed, though — Caleb Carr’s “The Alienist” and Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy books, for example. But my current favorite mystery author — I’d even go so far as to call him one of my favorite writers right now — is Will Thomas, who resides just outside Tulsa.

His most recent book, “The Hellfire Conspiracy,” is the fourth in his Barker-Llewelyn series, preceded by “Some Danger Involved,” “To Kingdom Come” and “The Limehouse Text.”

Cyrus Barker is a private enquiry agent — that’s a detective, to you and me — and Thomas Llewelyn his trusty assistant. In this installment, young girls in Victorian London are disappearing and then turning up dead, the purported victims of a white-slave ring. It falls to the duo to discover who is behind the heinous crimes.

Barker is a man of many complexities — one could even say contradictions. Although a skilled fighter, he is not particularly fond of violence. He is a man of simple tastes but employs a French chef. A Baptist tabernacle is his destination every Sunday, yet he has friends, employees and colleagues of diverse cultures and religions.

An Englishman through and through, Barker surrounds himself with all things Chinese, a holdover from his shadowy youth spent abroad. He practices martial arts, insists on drinking only green tea and employs a team of gardeners to maintain his property’s exquisite landscaping. He even has a Pekinese — an extremely rare dog to have at the time.

His associate, Thomas Llewelyn, was a down-on-his luck Welshman when the reader and Barker first met him in “Some Danger Involved.” Although he escaped his humble beginnings to earn a quality university education, he was a man whose life was in shambles. He’d served time in prison after being framed; while he was unjustly imprisoned, his beloved wife died from consumption. He was a desperate, hungry man in a raggedy suit, but Barker took a liking to him and hired him.

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