The Cockney Sparrow

Written by Dilly Court
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

1889. Struggling to make a living in the slums of Cheapside, London, Clemency Skinner supports her crippled brother Jack and alcoholic mother Edith by pick-pocketing. Edith is in the clutches of the unscrupulous pimp Hardiman, who wants Clemency to go on the game as well. Desperate to escape, Clemency, who has a beautiful soprano voice, finds work with Augustus Throop’s troupe of buskers. When she is talent-spotted by the manager of the Strand Theatre, it looks as if their fortunes have turned.

But Hardiman is a dangerous man to cross and engineers Clemency’s redundancy. Then she meets the mysterious and charismatic Jared Stone, who offers to help. She wants to trust him but, when she discovers that Hardiman is Jared’s business manager, it looks as if she and her family are running out of options….

My general feeling is that this book would have profited from being pruned. I lost count of the number of times Jack (who had had polio as a child) said something like, ‘If I weren’t only half a man I could beat up Hardiman/support my mother/stand up for my sister,’ etc. etc. And got the inevitably supportive, if clichéd, response: ‘You’re twice the man Hardiman is or words to that effect. Nor was I always convinced by Clemency’s behaviour, which frequently defies common sense, for example, going out by herself when she knows that Hardiman is looking for her.

Still, this is an easy, escapist read with enough twists and turns to keep the reader turning over the pages. Doubtless, Dilly Court’s fans will love it.