The Lazarus Gate by Mark A Latham

9/10 It is easy to lose all sense of time and normality with this novel.

While Constable Harris and his sergeant investigate an explosion in London, Captain John Hardwick, has recently been released by the Burmese and taken to Rangoon. After his torture, this is his only look at hope. Having been force-fed opium and tortured by the guards, he thinks this is the most hardship a man might take until he discovers what lies beyond the reality he thought he knew.

An artist resides in London painting numerous wonders for many clients above a gambling den, but he is also a strange man troubled by madness. Here, John Hardwick, former captain tells of his memories, all the horrors he has witnessed and of the darkness yet to come as a threat to the British Empire of 1890.

Hardwick has tried to return to normal life in a new place in London where he can heal his body and relax back into society. He knows others have taken great care of him, but personally he is plagued by nightmares from the torture he endured at the hands of the Burmese.

Mark sets out to portray a man who has undergone a great deal of suffering after six months of confinement. His main problem, the one he hasn’t mentioned to anyone, is that his opium addiction has never left him, the nightmares of being without it can prove too strong form him to take; a box containing a phial of opium and a needle are there to remind him he can at some point overcome the yearning within him. As John is rebuilding his life once more, he is also intrigued by the explosions that have been going on in London. Inevitably, a letter is pushed under John’s door leads him down a strange path he believes may be one of the most fearful of his entire life. The letter asks for his time at the Apollonia Club.

There, under the cover of secrecy, John is told that the recent bombings aren’t the work of normal people, there is evil at work that Sir Toby Fitzwilliam thinks could be worth investigating, and would like John to work with his small team who are also on the case. Toby believes the torture and hardship John endured makes him an excellent candidate for taking on the case.

Readers will find out that all is not what it might seem. To others who aren’t a part of the Apollonia Club, it looks like a novel meeting place for high society men, but John is told that it is an organisation like the Order of Apollo and whenever he sees the sign of Apollo Lycea, he can find sanctuary out of harm’s way.

Some of the more delightful additions to the novel are the members of the club; Ambrose Harlocke has all the appearance of a fine gentleman, yet he was well on the road to ruin when Sir Toby met him and thought his antics would be better suited to the club. As John is a dry and
troubled, though heroic sort, Ambrose is the funnier sort who perks up the darkness and frustration of John’s release from imprisonment. Surgeon Archibald McGrath is on hand to help and treat those who need it, but his treatment of John nearly gets out of control. So far, fifty or so pages in, we get the facts and the reality of the bombings becomes much clearer. Then there is the fantasy element; some nights John dreams about a dragon, multi-coloured and huge, at first it could be a result of his awful time in Burma, and a reference to the opium they fed him, but in later dreams it sounds much more like a premonition of coming events.

There aren’t many people who can come back after such an ordeal at the hands of captors, but John has the time to get back on his feet and fighting and become a part of an organisation that could do enough to keep London free of the criminal underworld. It is easy to lose all sense of time and normality with this novel as the reader will become ensnared in Latham’s setting.

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