Set in 1840’s London, ‘The Pleasures of Men’ tells the tale of orphaned nineteen year old Catherine Sorgeiul after she is taken in by her uncle. Uncle lives in genteel poverty amidst books and anthropological artifacts. Encouraged to not think about the tragedies of her past that led her to be institutionalized for a time, but given nothing to do that interests her, she becomes obsessed with the Man of Crows, a serial killer who is targeting young women. To try and get a handle on how he thinks, she begins to write about the victims without realizing that she is drawing bad intentions to herself. Soon she finds herself unable to trust anyone.
The atmosphere is wonderfully created- the heat of the city in summer, the claustrophobic life Catherine lives, the fear, and the uncertainty as to what is real and what isn’t – and made me feel like I was there. It was murky and shadowy, as I imagine Catherine’s mind must have been. As more and more peculiar discoveries are made that don’t seem to fit together quite right, the mystery deepens instead of being solved.
However, the story changes point of view and point in time frequently, from Catherine to the several girls who are murdered to, finally, the murderer. This made it very hard to follow. Most of the characters were poorly developed; perhaps it was to allow us to see that Catherine wasn’t really interested in them and just saw their surface, but it made it hard for me to care about them. Catherine herself, despite her situation, was hard to care for. The story seemed to lack a clear focus, and in the end it left me disappointed.