There is no doubt that Andrew Taylor is one of the most thoughtful and sophisticated writers currently populating the crime scene. His novels are rich, multi-layered, complex constructions dealing with human psychology on a higher plane that the vast majority of his peers manage.
Take Bleeding Heart Square, his latest novel published by Penguin late last month. It is an immense piece of work dealing with some mighty themes: domestic abuse, both physical and mental; the psychological scars of the Great War; the rise of British fascism under Oswald Mosley; surviving unemployment and poverty in an era of economic depression; class divides in the dying days of Empire.
And as if all that were not enough, there is a polished diamond of a mystery story around which all these other issues evolve, full of suspense and convincing twists.
Taylor also gives his story a profound sense of place. Much of the action takes place around the environs of Holborn in the (barely) fictional Bleeding Heart Square, which many will immediately recognise as Bleeding Heart Yard, which is tucked away off Greville Street sandwiched between Holborn Circus, Faringdon Road and Hatton Garden.
I will declare an interest here. I was married in St Etheldreda's (left), a beautiful Catholic Church which backs on to Bleeding Heart Yard and is situated in Ely Place, renamed Rosington Place in Taylor's novel where the church becomes, simply, "the Chapel". So the location has a special place in my life, not to mention one of London's most romantic restaurants, the Bleeding Heart.
But notwithstanding that, this is anyway one of London's more interesting corners, where the City financiers mix with the butchers and meat packers, the jewellers with the journalist of Fleet Street and the Lawyers of the Inns of Court. Architecturally it is not especially interesting now, but some of the streets were untouched by the Blitz and there are just enough left of the narrow streets and passages to make it easy to appreciate how dark and dingy it may have felt in the 1930s with London's famous mists and fogs.
Taylor evokes this beautifully, the streets are alive with fear and despair, underpinning the narrative with a sense of menace that builds towards a tense climax.
Bleeding Heart Square revolves around the inhabitants of a house in the Square. Lydia Langstone, an aristocrat who moves in with her estranged alcoholic father to escape an abusive husband. Rory Wentwood who takes up residence to investigate the role of the landlord, Joseph Serridge, in the disappearance of the previous owner of the house, Philippa Penhow, who was related to Wentwood's fiancée.
The trail leads back and forth between London and rural Essex where Serridge bought a house with MIss Penhow after they married, and from where she disappeared, leaving only a letter from New York suggesting she had taken up with a former beau giving any indication as to her whereabouts.
The narrative is tied together by excerpts from Miss Penhow's diary, which detail the destructive relationship with Serridge and her gradual breakdown.
Bleeding Heart Square is intelligent, atmospheric and thought-provoking. It is compelling, and draws the reader into to its perfectly-constructed world, leaving you wanting to race through it to unravel the mystery but also not wanting ever to finish such a beautiful book.