The Penmaker’s Wife

Written by Steve Robinson
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1880 London, Angelica, an attractive Frenchwoman, is unhappy in her marriage to an Englishman. Wishing for a better life for her and her young son, William, Angelica fakes their drowning, and they flee for Birmingham. There, following several unpleasant incidents, she manages to pose as a respectable London widow. In a park, while William plays with another lad, Alexander, Angelica encounters Alexander’s mother, a rich penmaker’s wife, Georgina Hampton, who invites them to her mansion for tea. There, Angelica meets Effie, a pretty young woman, and Georgina’s husband, Stanley, who is taken aback by Angelica’s slight French accent.

Georgina hires Angelica as a governess. Unfortunately, Georgina dies in an accident, and Stanley marries Angelica. Angelica takes measures to ensure that William, not Alexander, will inherit the pen-making fortune. It would seem Angelica has finally achieved her heart’s desires. However, demons from Angelica’s past catch up to her; she confronts them boldly.

Although this historical novel is a departure for Steve Robinson from his well-known Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mysteries, the fast-paced action scenes and an absorbing plot make it gripping. The artful device of using a narrator telling part of the story, while imprisoned, adds to the intrigue. The details of fountain pen-making are an interesting aside, cleverly woven into the story. Life in both the Victorian era lower and upper classes, and the chasm between them, is shown adequately, transporting readers to those times. Class and gender issues, as well as prostitution and lesbianism, are meshed into the storyline. However, the numerous coincidences, the actions of various characters, and the occurrence of some events require suspension of disbelief. Angelica is a woman well ahead of her time and makes us wonder how far a mother would go to secure her child’s future.