The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach by Jas Treadwell - Book Review


Who is Thomas Peach?

Ah, reader! - if you would have us answer THAT question - What mysteries you shall compel us to expose!

It is the year 1785, and a gentleman of modest means has left London for the countryside, to look after his ailing wife.

Among his neighbours, tongues being to wag. Why does he keep a locked chest under the stairs? Is it really full of forbidden books? And what is exactly the matter with his wife?

For the most part, though, the couple live in peace -- until a letter arrives, threatening to cut off their livelihood and expel them from their home.

Faced with the prospect of penury -- and perhaps worse -- the gentleman rides out in search of some means to save himself.

But fate has other plans for Thomas Peach.

A bizarre request brings an encounter with a mysterious young woman, raised from infancy as a rich man's ward, now condemned to the madhouse. As their paths become disturbingly entangled, Mr. Peach begins to suspect that in her past lies a dreadful secret ...

Dreadful indeed! - Yet however fearful the poor child's history - can her secret be darker, than HIS OWN?

My Thoughts

Written in the style of an 18th-century novel and told through an omniscient narrator, The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach is not for the faint-hearted. I'm a quick reader, but my pace was slowed by the style, the concentration needed, and the distraction of footnotes, although these were helpful in explaining the many literary references.

We are first introduced to Thomas Peach by the narrator drawing our attention to a gravestone. There is nothing remarkable about it, nor, we are told, of the man whose grave it marks. The narrator then takes us back to 1785 when Thomas Peach is a gentleman in his mid-thirties, to a rented cottage in a tiny village in Somersetshire, where Mr. Peach lives quietly with his ailing wife. There is much gossip and speculation about the existence of Mrs. Peach as she has never been seen, and of Mr. Peach: what are his family connections, where does his wealth come from, and why has he sequestered himself in the country?

Some of these questions are answered in a letter Mr. Peach receives; more are raised. The letter also contains news that threatens Mr. Peach's well-being. Seeking a solution to one of his problems, he leaves the seclusion of his home, setting off a chain of events that will inadvertently reveal his many secrets, but not before we meet several colourful characters along the way, including the enigmatic Clarissa (Clary) Riddle.

Mr. Peach is a paradox. Outwardly he is a worthy gentleman: solicitous of his wife's health; an undemanding and fair master; reasonably honest; perhaps gullible, contemplative and not given to rash or impulsive actions. We see a different side to this quiet and unassuming man through his past and the plan he formulates when that past finally catches up with him.

The narrator plays his part well by reminding us of recent events that we may have thought insignificant and hinting at others that shed more light on Mr. Peach's character, but he could also be intrusive and frustrating at times.

I had mixed feelings while reading this novel. Hidden within its pages is an intriguing tale, but the effort required to extract it far outweighed my enjoyment at the time. By the end, however, even though there are still questions left unanswered and we still do not know the real Thomas Peach, I am glad I persevered.

The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach is a memorable reading experience.


  1. The plot sounds fascinating but I am put off by the concentration required to read it. Nice book cover too.