The Limehouse Text

In The Limehouse Text, Barker and Llewelyn discover a pawn ticket among the effects of Barker's late assistant, leading them to London's Chinese district, Limehouse. There they retrieve an innocent-looking book that proves to be a rare and secret text stolen from a Nanking monastery. When they take it to Ho, Barker's favorite restaurateur, for inspection, they discover that it contains lethal martial arts techniques forbidden to the West. With the political situation between the British Empire and Imperial China already precarious, the duo must safeguard the text from a snarl of suspects with conflicting interests -- and track down a killer intent upon gaining the secret knowledge.

Prowling through an underworld of opium dens, back-room blood sports, and sailors' penny hangs while avoiding the wrath of the district's powerful warlord, Mr. K'ing, Barker and Llewelyn take readers on a perilous tour through the mean streets of turn-of-the-century London.

Praise for The Limehouse Text

Mystery writer's 'Limehouse' volume charms

By John Orr
Special to the Mercury News

Will Thomas is proving to be one of those rare mystery novelists who really smack 'em out of the park with their first books, and then just keep swattin' 'em out as they go along.

An Oklahoma librarian, Thomas took a reported five years to write his first, brilliant mystery, "Some Danger Involved," which was published in 2004; then came back in 2005 with another great one, "To Kingdom Come"; and here he is with another winner, "The Limehouse Text."

Thomas invented a great detective team for his thrill-filled series, which takes place in the gritty London of the 1880s: Cyrus Barker, a world-traveled, multilingual "inquiry agent," and Thomas Llewelyn, his Welsh assistant.

Llewelyn was heartbroken, starving and nearly ready to end his life when Barker hired him for the job that had "Some Danger Involved." Together, they are one of the great detective duos, a la Holmes and Watson or Wolfe and Goodwin.

"The Limehouse Text" takes place in 1885, almost a year after the events of "Some Danger Involved." The title object is an instruction book for an amazing form of Chinese martial arts that has already been responsible for several deaths among people who have touched the text.

" 'It's a rather special manual,' " Barker explains. " 'It teaches, for one thing, a way to disrupt the body's internal functions, killing someone without a sign. . . . It gets worse,' Barker said, crossing his arms. 'Death need not be instantaneous. With the training from the book, one could disrupt a system -- let us say the circulative system -- of someone in the morning merely by touch, and that person could die that night after a normal day's activity. Or the next day or a week later.' "

In the world of the 19th century, such a martial art could be a weapon of mass destruction, which is why so many groups -- including the British secret service, Chinese tongs and others -- want to get their hands on it.

Barker and Llewelyn, however, just want to solve the murders associated with the book and save the lives of themselves and their friends in the process. And then decide what to do with the book.

Thomas -- who has deeply researched the London of the 1800s -- gives us another fascinating tour of its upper- and lower-class environs, and a look at the culture of martial arts of the time. One of the reasons why Barker is in such danger in this book -- and he is -- is that if he is white, he's not supposed to have learned some of the martial arts he puts to use in this tale's many fights. And therefore he must die. But could he really be of Chinese heritage? And if so, why does he say he is Scottish? His eyes are always hidden behind his smoked-glass spectacles, and his personal history is mysterious.

This series started strong, with a solid personality and charm, and is getting better as it goes along.

Highly recommended.

Posted on Sun, Aug. 06, 2006