The Corpse Played Dead

Written by Georgina Clarke
Review by Melissa Warren

Lizzie Hardwicke is a brilliant, educated, and kind sex worker. Seated in a theater with her colleagues, she learns that she is also the most famous prostitute in London. When an audience member notices Lizzie, the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane erupts into a riot of applause. The attention she receives from the audience is not related to her feminine charms but her capture of a murderer. Uncomfortable with the applause but ever the businesswomen, Lizzie turns her sights toward the wealthier gentlemen in the audience, ready to monetize her new fame, until a horrible scream and cries of murder explode from backstage.

The next day is a fair one in May of 1759. Nineteen-year-old Lizzie, after escaping one murder, is asked to help solve another crime. As a member of an elite house of sex workers catering to noble patrons, she has some choice in the matter, but not much. Local magistrate John Fielding often overlooks her work because she serves wealthy clients, but he and his men still hold sway over her livelihood. After one of his men visits her and requests that she serves as a spy, she finds herself wearing a horrible disguise and installed as a lowly seamstress in the very theater where she received such adoration only the evening before.

On the surface, Lizzie Hardwicke is a skilled novice detective in a crime novel. However, author Georgina Clarke has a much more important role for Lizzie. She bears witness and often endures the terrible sexual violence of the 18th century. These appalling crimes are ubiquitous but go unpunished as women of every class and age endure them silently. Lizzie works as cunningly as she can to transcend her terrifying circumstances.