In the grim streets of 1888 London, a new wave of terror descends upon the city as Jack the Ripper reigns in the East End. However, in the enigmatic neighborhood of “Clubland” in the West End, a different kind of killer lurks in the shadows. At the heart of this sinister tale is Sizar’s, the most notorious gentlemen’s club, where destitute boys can find a path to success, as long as they are willing to compromise their morals. Amidst this dark backdrop, Stewart Marsh, a former Navy man, uncovers a lifeless body beneath a pier in Brighton, setting off a domino effect of murders that seem to implicate the heart of Sizar’s itself. Kathleen Brennan weaves a gripping narrative that unveils the dark underbelly of Victorian society, peeling back the layers of propriety to reveal a chilling web of secrets and bloodshed.



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In 1888 London, while the city is captivated by the gruesome murders of Jack the Ripper in the East End, another sinister killer is lurking in the West End’s “Clubland,” home to exclusive gentleman’s clubs. One of the most notorious clubs in this area is Sizar’s, a place where underprivileged boys can hope to climb the social ladder, as long as they are willing to compromise their morals. Stewart Marsh, a former Navy man, works at Sizar’s and occasionally escapes to Brighton for a run on the beach. It is during one of these outings that he stumbles upon a shocking discovery – the lifeless body of a young man known as the Pipe. As Detective Oscar Glass from Scotland Yard delves into the investigation, more bodies start to accumulate, leading him to uncover a dark secret at the heart of Sizar’s club. The author, Brennan, weaves a captivating mystery that challenges the pristine image of Victorian society with its undercurrents of debauchery and violence. However, readers must be prepared for Brennan’s ornate, almost poetic prose, which may not be to everyone’s taste but offers a unique experience that complements the intrigue of the story.


The stark contrast between the East End and the West End sets the stage for the events that unfold in Crab Bait. While the East End is notorious for the brutal murders perpetrated by Jack the Ripper, the West End, particularly Clubland, is perceived as an enclave of sophistication and privilege. As the story primarily unfolds within the walls of Sizar’s Gentleman’s Club, readers are introduced to an environment where power and corruption reign. Additionally, Brighton Beach plays a significant role in the narrative, serving as both a place for Marsh to find solace and the scene of a startling discovery.


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Plot Summary

The story begins with Marsh making a disturbing encounter under a pier at Brighton Beach – the body of the Pipe. The Pipe, a pimp and blackmailer who was well-known and despised, becomes the focus of the investigation led by Detective Oscar Glass. As the case unfolds, the body count rises, and Glass is drawn deeper into the tangled web surrounding Sizar’s Club. The reader becomes intricately involved in the investigation, with twists and turns that keep them guessing the identity of the murderer until the resolution of the story.

Main Characters

The protagonist, Stewart Marsh, is a former Navy man who works at Sizar’s Club, sorting boys from destitute backgrounds who aspire to climb the social ladder. His discovery of the Pipe’s body sets the story in motion. The Pipe himself, a notorious pimp and blackmailer, serves as the catalyst for the investigation. Lastly, Detective Oscar Glass, the lead investigator from Scotland Yard, is determined to uncover the truth behind the murders and expose the dark underbelly of Sizar’s Club.


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Crab Bait explores several themes that reflect the complexities and contradictions of Victorian society. The class divide is a prominent theme, as reflected in the workings of Sizar’s Club and the aspirations of the boys seeking membership. Ambition and social mobility are also explored, as the characters navigate the treacherous path towards societal advancement. Corruption and blackmail, prevalent in the secretive world of gentleman’s clubs, further emphasize the sinister nature of the plot. The exploration of sexuality and taboos challenges the rigid societal norms of the era and reveals the hidden desires lurking beneath the surface.

Writing Style

Brennan’s writing style can be described as baroque prose, characterized by elaborate language and ornate descriptions. The author employs vivid imagery and a meticulous attention to detail to create a rich and immersive reading experience. While the prose can be dense and weighty at times, it adds a unique flavor to the narrative, transporting readers to the Victorian era and capturing the essence of the story’s setting.

Gentleman’s Clubs

Sizar’s Club is a key location within Crab Bait, and it provides a glimpse into the history, rituals, and customs of gentleman’s clubs in the Victorian era. Within the historical context, these clubs served as exclusive spaces for elite men to associate, network, and solidify their power. Membership in such clubs was a mark of distinction and social status, while hierarchy and rituals governed the interactions and behaviors of the members.

The Victorian Era

A comprehensive overview of Victorian society is pivotal in understanding the backdrop against which Crab Bait unfolds. The article explores social etiquette, expectations, and the stark contrasts between societal ideals and the harsh realities of the time. The facade of respectability and societal norms are stripped away to reveal the hidden darkness and hypocrisy of the era.

Impact of Murder

The murders in Crab Bait have far-ranging implications for society at large. Fear and paranoia grip the city, reminiscent of the terror caused by Jack the Ripper’s crimes. As Glass delves deeper into the investigation, the revelation of secrets shatters the carefully crafted facades of the elite and exposes their darkest secrets. The unmasking of the elite highlights the corruption and depravity hidden beneath their polished exteriors.

In conclusion, Crab Bait offers readers an immersive journey into the dark underbelly of Victorian society, challenging the veneer of respectability and exposing the corruption lurking within gentleman’s clubs. The ornate prose may take some getting used to, but those who persevere are rewarded with a compelling mystery that confronts societal norms and explores the complexities of ambition, corruption, and the human desires suppressed by Victorian society.