My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I owe my thanks to the 2017 Reading Challenge for this serendipitous find: I picked it because I thought it fit the category of ‘set in my [adoptive] home town’, and it does – just in a different country.
I was immediately immersed in the cold and damp of smog-filled industrial England. It gave me such a solid grounding of time and place that by the time I met the main players I was already comfortable in the story.
It isn’t just the atmosphere but the level of technology – toast is made by forking it and holding it over an open fireplace. Baths are had in front of the same fire and only on Friday nights. Coal is fetched, horse manure is side-stepped, the poorer parts of town are peopled with desperates and the rich hide avarice and greed behind their prestige.
Life is harsh but Brown’s characters are warm, solid, and friendly. The story is a cross-genre mix of crime, historic fiction, and romance with Brown building up a Jack-the-Ripper-style of dread on the villainy front as superbly as she does the nervous thrill on the love side of things.
She also captures the attitudes of the time admirably: the thought that one should not seek to rise above one’s station, and the way this impacts on lives, rich and poor.
Behind this story’s simple plot lies a richness that could only have arisen out of intense, thorough research. Well worth the happy accidental discovery!