Literary non-fiction demands that a respectable household is not really a respectable household — and the Bastendorffs of 4 Euston Square fully oblige. The family take in lodgers at their elegant townhouse in Bloomsbury and, just as they are sprucing it up to welcome their latest in May 1879, a mystery corpse is uncovered in their coal cellar.
It would not spoil anything to say that the Bastendorffs turn out to be a pretty kooky bunch, headed up by Severin, the paterfamilias who started life in rural Luxembourg. Thanks to Severin’s heritage, we skip past the well-worn Disney Victoriana of gas lamps and sooty urchins and into the more unusual territory of London’s burgeoning Germanic subculture. Our ingenious detective hero, despatched to investigate the crime, is Inspector Charles Hagen, also of German descent, who uses the victim’s gold watch and a missed dental appointment to great effect.