The Darkest Walk by Malcolm Archibald is a thoroughly enjoyable historical crime novel offering an interesting and unusual setting that will be unfamiliar to many readers. The book is set in late 1847 and early 1848 at a time when the Chartist movement, seeking parliamentary and voting reform and universal male suffrage, was reaching its climax. By this time the Chartists had split into two groups with incompatible views about the means of reaching their objectives. Moral Force Chartists felt it was enough to exert political pressure, while Physical Force Chartists believed that what would today be called direct action, up to and including revolution, should be employed if necessary.
We meet Police Constable James Mendick as he takes part in a raid to capture a forger operating in one of London's incredibly squalid slums. Mendick is no Londoner and this is one of the factors that lead to his being offered a promotion to detective in return for travelling to Manchester and infiltrating a group of Direct Action Chartists. The group is known to have killed one policeman trying to discover their plans already and Mendick is left under no illusions about the importance of the task he is being asked to undertake, nor about its danger.
We follow Mendick as he travels north, becomes accepted as a Chartist, and uses his military background to help with the movement's training. Meanwhile he tries to understand the role of the mysterious and attractive Rachel Scott and of the local landowner, Sir Robert Trafford: as it starts to become clear that there may be more than one plot under way, with potentially world-changing consequences. It is difficult not to draw parallels between the author's style and that of John Buchan, and the pace with which the chase scene and subsequent train ride towards the end of the book unfold certainly brings back memories of some of the Hannay books.