London, circa 1900, provides fertile ground for this mystery novel. In Jane Jakeman's unusual and satisfying story, the water of the Thames is the great thread that runs throughout. She writes elegantly about what Whistler called the poetry of the city.
In the Kingdom of Mists brings together a number of plots with a clever touch: Claude Monet painting the river from the Savoy; wounded soldiers from the Boer War being nursed in the hotel; Oliver Craston, a young Foreign Office diplomat who falls in love with a young woman connected to Monet; and Inspector Garrety, a newcomer to London who spends a lot of time investigating bodies dragged out of the river.
What Jakeman does so well is to integrate Monet's artistic project with a London murder mystery. For her, understanding the complexities of London is in part a problem of perception. How can we understand what goes on in a city so seemingly impenetrable and intricate? Garrety "despaired too, sometimes, at the opaque nature of vision here and how obscured it was".
How to penetrate the smoky, foggy murkiness of London is Monet's problem, and his vision holds the novel together (not least because Jakeman has included colour plates of his paintings). It shows both the difficulty of "seeing" London and a way of embracing that difficulty. What makes Jakeman's London so interesting, finally, is that it is largely a city imagined through Monet's eyes: "This place, London herself, was surely the witch, the mystery, conjuring up things he had long forgotten, which came drifting and swirling through the mist as he tried to paint."
Imagining one of the most accomplished painters of London in the midst of painting the city is no easy task, and linking it to an urban mean-streets tale even more challenging. Yet, in her many fine descriptions of the river and the play of light on water, Jakeman offers Monet's misty vision as a wonderfully astute way of revealing the mysteries of London.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies