The Streets of Babylon, By Carina Burman, trs Sarah Death

Tom Tomaszewski
Sunday 23 October 2011 09:07

It's 1851 and Euthanasia Bondeson, the Swedish novelist, and her niece Agnes are in London, visiting the Great Exhibition. Euthanasia, the narrator, is self-centred, bullish and blessed with a talent for writing: ("The sun knew blood had been spilled during the night. Its gleam spread crimson across the sea, for the sun cared little for the horrifying deed that had been done"); while Agnes is "always getting lost. Apart from beauty, a certain silliness and the occasional bout of good common sense, it is her most prevalent characteristic." Unfortunately, Agnes manages to get lost.

Euthanasia fears the worst: "My books always depict dreadful successions of events... I began to fear that novels could rub off on real life and that the blood-red sun of my story augured terrible things."

Can she, together with the handsome professor and Welsh police inspector negotiate the seedy perils of Victorian London to find her unworldly companion? Burman's extraordinary feeling for history and eccentric wit make for a most unusual kind of crime caper.

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