Kitty Peck and the Child of Ill Fortune
This is the second of Kate Griffin’s novels featuring Kitty Peck, a young woman living in Victorian Limehouse. Kitty has risen from music hall skivvy to celebrated singing trapeze act, and at the beginning of this new novel, she inherits her grandmother’s vast and shady criminal empire. Kitty’s voice as the east end narrator is convincingly written. She and her gay friend, Lucca, travel to Paris in search of Kitty’s brother, Joey, who is missing and presumed dead. Kitty is relieved to find Joey alive and well and running a high-class cross-dressing establishment. Joey and a mysterious man called David, who Kitty finds irresistibly attractive, persuade her to smuggle a baby back to Limehouse. This is Kitty’s first error. Before she has even taken possession of the baby at the Paris Gare du Nord station, she is knocked onto the railway tracks by a murderous railway porter. Once back in London things go from bad to worse as Kitty struggles to protect the baby, unravel its secrets, and assume effective rule of her grandmother’s empire. Can Kitty hold her own with the group of powerful London crime lords she has just joined? Can she safeguard her brother?
The novel ratchets along at a lick, and Griffin is a consummate mistress of the cliff-hanging chapter ending. Peopled by sinister Russian ballet dancers, inscrutable Chinese servants, crime barons embodying their vile corruption and impoverished Eastenders with hearts of gold, this is an enjoyable Victorian Gothic romp. Griffin’s evocation of the world of the music hall is vivid and seems to owe some inspiration to Manet’s famous painting of the Bar at the Folies Bergère. The mutual tenderness of Kitty’s relationship with Lucca is well drawn, and the depiction of Kitty’s frightful, diseased and opium-drenched grandmother, Lady Ginger, is utterly compelling.