Set in Victorian London and concerning a young woman pursued by a master criminal with murder on his mind, this book should work very well as a thriller, but somehow it never quite succeeds.
Grace Hammer, a single mother, is in many ways a likeable young woman and is well educated. But she has a talent for thieving. She lives alone in the East End, where the airs are less balmy than the countryside from which she comes. Yet, she is, in a sense, respectable. She not only trains her children in her trade of thieving, but she makes every effort to educate them in higher matters, and it is clear the family are familiar with such books of the period as Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Such titles occur frequently in the text. Indeed there is a Dickensian feel to the writing. The characters have a larger than life quality. A female character is spoken of by one of Grace’s children as a crone from Grimms’ Tales. She is also variously described as a goblin and a witch. Such characterisations have a nightmare quality.
Add to this the fact that the murderous master criminal who pursues Grace does so because she has acquired a valuable necklace he believes to be rightfully his, and the book has all the ingredients for a thriller – all, that is, except one crucial ingredient. It lacks the requisite tension and narrative drive. The writing is good, the descriptions of the squalor of London’s East End are vivid and evocative, but I could not engage and identify with Grace and her plight. For me the writing is somehow too distant to induce empathy. I’m afraid I could not warm to this book.