The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams is a mystery and suspense story set in 1840s England. Catherine Sorgeiul, an orphan, lives with her eccentric uncle on Princes Street, and, at 19, is on the verge of being a spinster. Forced by her uncle to try to find a suitable match, yet confined to her dismal and eerie home in a lower-class part of London, she yearns to escape from the drudgery. When the Man of Crows, a horrific serial killer, begins to wage war on poor girls throughout the city, and leaves them dead in the position of a wounded bird, Catherine becomes intrigued (it is never clear why). She decides to chronicle the events in writing in order to better understand the victims and to understand the motives of the Man of Crows. As she dives further into the horrors that captivate the city, she begins to fear that she may be causing this evil. When her former maid is found dead and her current maid goes missing, Catherine feels overwhelmed with no one to turn to. She fears that writing about the Man of Crows may have led her to become a pawn in a larger game and becomes determined to solve the mystery on her own.
While this book has a great plot idea, it is awkwardly developed and shifts between narrators with insignificant and unknown characters describing events. Also, there are a number of details about Catherine and her family that are left out until much later in the novel, leaving the reader attempting to make sense of all of the pieces. Additionally, the story isn’t ever resolved – there is no closure at the end and Catherine seems rather indifferent about the murders at the end, despite knowing that the murderer could still be a threat. I really wanted to like this book, but the story doesn’t come together. If you are a patient reader, and willing to work with underdeveloped characters, this could be a good fit. It is a truly unique idea.