Guardians of the Key
Gray has skilfully crafted a tale that leads from Italy under the burden of Napoleonic rule to the Italian quarter of London, where Lucchese merchants have traded their fine silk since the time of Henry III and earlier. The thread that weaves its way across borders and through the centuries is the story of Lucca’s holy relics, which safeguard the city’s prosperity and its autonomy, and it is this thread that is slowly but brilliantly unravelled by Whilbert Stroop, an engaging sleuth with an encyclopedic memory and a warm heart.
Stroop is called upon to help Mabel Flinchurst, a young girl who has been adopted by her great-aunt and brought to live in London. The shocking suicide of a stranger in the church opposite Mabel’s new home threatens her life and that of her entire family. The Lucchese community itself is aware of the treachery that has infiltrated its Inner Council, and it too joins in the race to find the only person who can save Lucca from humiliation and possible destruction. The killings are violent and cold-blooded, and the suspense is maintained right until the last few pages.
Gray has an exceptional eye for detail, and her characterisation is superb. It is a delight to discover characters like Mabel, Jack, the enigmatic Stroop and the silk merchant Castracani, and refreshing that psychological development is deemed as important as historical detail. Even the extras, like Stanley Izod or the old caretaker in St Frigidian’s Church, are described with the delicate clarity of Mabel’s embroideries. Although not for the faint-hearted, this is a fantastic first novel by a prize-winning short-story writer, and I look forward to meeting Whilbert Stroop again.