The Red Monarch by Bella Ellis Review
By Sandra Callard
This is the third book in the Brontë Mysteries series of adventures by Bella Ellis, who uses the names and characters of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë, and their brother Branwell, as they turn detectives, this time in the dangerous East End of London of 1852. They leave their peaceful home in Haworth, lie to their religious father as to their whereabouts, and go to London to help a pregnant woman save her husband from the most villainous and beastly man in the city, a man who kills at will, and is known as the Red Monarch.
The story is fast moving and shocking, and dredges up the filth and horror of the poor of mid-19th century London with skill and panache. The horror of it is palpable as the author highlights the seedy, broken relics of humanity that the Brontës have to deal with. They seem to do this with skill and courage and are steadfast in their search for the husband and also a kidnapped child who is taken by the Red Monarch to be sold for any nefarious deed certain men will pay for. All is portrayed with clear and unstinting skill and with a sharp and hard determination to save these people, in spite of a feeling of disbelief on this reader’s part at the unfolding story.
The intrepid adventurers never vary in their certainty of success, in spite of overwhelming odds, but because they are the Brontës and we all know that they did not come to a sticky end in the vileness of a 19th century East End of London, the tension is abated somewhat. They are so pure and strong in their convictions of right that there is no wondering whether or not they will survive.
The reading of this book, with the known characters who are enmeshed into it, removes any suspense from the story, and the eventual ending is very predictable. I even guessed well in advance who was going to die, even though there was no indication at the time who this would be.
I have many reservations about the adoption of these world-famous authors’ names being used and adapted as characters in a series of new books. Ellis is a superb writer, and surely it would not have been beyond her skill to devise a story around four northerners of personality to be the lead characters in her new book, rather than poaching real characters who, so thorough research informs, were nothing like the purported Brontës in this book. True, it is written with a tongue-in-cheek theme running through it, but the depictions of the squalour of 19th-century London is alarming, and the two things do not sit easily together.
Bella Ellis will probably pen more books in this series, as it seems to be popular, but I have read two and I think that is adequate.
‘The Red Monarch’ by Bella Ellis is published by Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99 hardback