About the Book
1898. Juan Camerón’s father is killed while working as a photographer amidst the chaos of war in Cuba, but his last pictures reveal a sinister truth to his final moments…
Juan travels to Scotland to grieve with family and immerses himself in the study of photography. When he invents a device that inadvertently solves a crime, local law enforcement recruit him to help stop a brutal serial killer plaguing the streets of Glasgow.
Format: Hardcover (352 pages) Publisher: Allison and Busby
Publication date: 23rd April 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime, Mystery
Find The Figure in the Photograph on Goodreads
I was attracted to this book for a number of reasons: firstly, because historical crime is one of my favourite genres; secondly, because it’s published by Allison & Busby who have a great track record of publishing books I enjoy; thirdly, I was intrigued by it being partly set in Cuba.
Initially I was a little disappointed that the setting moves pretty quickly from revolutionary Cuba to Glasgow. However, I was soon immersed in the story and the atmosphere created by the author which vividly brings to life the sights, sounds and smells of the crowded streets and tenements of Glasgow at the very end of the 19th century.
The main character, Juan, was a little less vivid. The reader never gets much description of him so I found it hard to create a picture of him in my mind. At first, I wondered if this was deliberate on the author’s part, since there are detailed descriptions of other characters, or if it would have some significance for the story. As it turns out, the only things we really learn are that he is skilled in photography and that he can look after himself in a tight situation, having learned to box in Granada and been taught judo by his Jesuit tutor in Madrid. The latter comes in very handy. I also found Juan’s lack of curiosity about his mother’s whereabouts, mentioned as part of his back story early on in the book, rather surprising. However, perhaps the author is saving that for the future.
Introducing the use of photography as a detection technique, in particular Juan’s pioneering self-timer which enables photographs of a scene to be taken at set intervals, is a bit of a masterstroke on the author’s part. After all, who hasn’t enjoyed a ‘spot the difference’ quiz at one time or another? It also raises some intriguing questions about what we notice or don’t notice when we look at a photograph. Who is there who shouldn’t be? Who isn’t there but should be? Is there something that stands out as remarkable? Is there something so unremarkable it gets overlooked? It brought to mind Sherlock Holmes’ oft quoted observation about the curious incident of the dog in the night time. (Talking of Sherlock Holmes, I loved young Tommy, who appoints himself Juan’s assistant, messenger and guide; a sort of one urchin version of the Baker Street Irregulars.)
As the bodies mount up, Juan despairs at his lack of progress in discovering the identity of the serial killer, despite hours spent painstakingly analysing the scenes he’s photographed and undertaking his own investigations. But if he’s really not getting anywhere, why do so many influential local men seem anxious to bring his involvement in the case to an end? Like the process of developing a photograph, slowly the full picture is revealed. And Juan maybe on to something when he wonders if, in the future, it will be possible to place cameras in city streets taking continuous photographs.
I really enjoyed The Figure in the Photograph. It’s a well-crafted, atmospheric historical crime mystery and I look forward to reading further books by the author. I received an advance review copy courtesy of Allison and Busby.
In three words: Compelling, atmospheric, suspenseful
Try something similar: The Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh
About the Author
Kevin Sullivan was born in Glasgow. His career in journalism has placed him on the front line of defining historical moments in living memory, from documenting events at Tiananmen Square to covering the siege of Dubrovnik and the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. His work has taken him to Singapore, Sri Lanka, Japan, the Western Balkans and Spain. He lives in Sarajevo. (Photo credit: Publisher author page)