The follow up to The House on Half Moon Street, The Anarchists’ Club is a historical crime novel that follows Leo Stanhope again as he finds himself caught up in another mystery. His life has been quiet since the events of the previous book, but when the police come to talk to him about a woman found dead in a club for anarchists with his address in her purse, he is drawn into her murder and into what has happened to her two children. And tied up in the case is a man from his past who blackmails him into providing an alibi, making Leo more mixed up in the events than expected.
As with the previous novel, the characters are what really make this series. Leo is a great protagonist, a trans man who plays chess every week and can’t help but get involved when there’s a mystery to get to the bottom of. Leo’s landlord Alfie and Alfie’s daughter Constance are also vivid characters, a kind of family that Leo has found in the heart of London who try to look out for him, despite his foolish tendency to get into trouble. The plot is a gripping one, a tangled web with a rich family in the middle and an anarchists’ club who find themselves as a police scapegoat. It would’ve been interesting to hear more about the anarchists’ club, but as Leo isn’t interested in revolutionary politics, the reader will have to stick with glimpses into that world.
In some ways, The Anarchists’ Club makes for a more thrilling read than its predecessor, as it doesn’t need to set up the characters as much, but can delve further into them as the narrative progresses. The somewhat clumsy emphasis on Leo’s physical discomfort that let the first book down is less prevalent in this one, too. The series isn’t always nuanced, but the depiction of Victorian crime and Leo’s tendency to run headfirst into trying to help people make the books a decent read.