"Gauntlet of Fear" by David Cargill is the second in what will become a trilogy of novels featuring Professor Giles Dawson, historian of magic and illusion. You do not need to have read the first in the trilogy to enjoy the second, and enjoy it we certainly did. The plot moves along nicely and the main characters, including Giles and his one-time RAF comrade Freddie Oldsworth, are engaging and likable. The result is a book that keep you involved, and which keeps you turning the page from the opening scene to the closing. The novel is set over a number of months from the end of 1966 to mid 1967 and the historical setting has been captured well by the author and adds to the atmosphere of the book.
We meet Giles as he is employed by the owner of the Circus Tropicana to discover who is behind an ever escalating series of mishaps and "accidents" at the circus, which the owner believes are intended to undermine his position and allow someone else to take it over. He offers Giles a fairly long list of his own suspects, and Giles finds reason to extend the list further as his investigation proceeds. The Circus Tropicana is initially located in its winter quarters at a once top secret but now disused RAF airfield in Devon, but we follow the action to York and then to London as the stakes become ever higher and the incidents take on an ever more sinister tone.
Author David Cargill lives in the Highlands, and the excursion taken by Professor Dawson to a castle on a Scottish island (identities concealed to avoid giving too much away) is particularly intriguing for anyone who has ever toured that particular building. It was fascinating to see the location through someone else's eyes, and for us this added much to our enjoyment of the book.
"Gauntlet of Fear" is self-published by the author, and we suspect that this means it might not have benefitted from the level of professional editorial input that would be found with crime novels emerging from mainstream publishing houses. What this means in practice is that if you look to pick faults in the book, you can find a few small ones. But although we suspect that English police forces in the 1960s might not have been quite as laid back about murders on their patch as two appear to be here, that is not something unique to this particular "amateur detective" story, and we never tripped over anything which broke the spell or undermined the credibility of the storytelling, or our appreciation of an unusual book we'd certainly recommend to others.