Diamonds & Dust
Here we have a fast-paced, sharply characterised slice of Victoriana, set in London in 1860. There is a nippy, present-tense narrative with the same wry omniscience as Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, and the author mercilessly skewers the pretensions of all levels of society, whether aristocrats, nouveaux riches or snobbish servants.
Our heroine, feisty, red-haired Josephine King, comes into possession of an allegedly cursed diamond on the sudden death of her uncle. She determines to investigate the circumstances surrounding his demise and finds staunch allies in Lilith Marks, her uncle’s mistress, and the young crossing-sweeper known only as “Oi” – the detective police are baffled and it is up to the women who loved Herbert King to find out who – or what – killed him.
The author acknowledges the “wonderful Victorian authors whose work I have shamelessly plundered, paraphrased and pastiched”. Unfortunately, I found this very distracting to begin with. The first paragraph for instance, is a direct take on Dickens’ celebrated opening to Bleak House, and this is quickly followed by allusions to Jane Eyre, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Moonstone, among others .The final introduction of a supernatural element was, for me, a jarring note, but all in all, this was a vivid page-turner and an enjoyable read.
One little historical slip – we are told “the great Mandolini” has been persuaded to perform excerpts from Puccini’s opera Tosca at a masked ball, but this was not premiered until 1900.