The Sailor’s Ransom
The plot in Brian Thompson’s most recent historical novel revolves around matchmaking. Heroine Bella Wallis is introduced to a young heiress, Mary Skillane, who was been promised by her father to a vulgar treasure seeker. When the heiress falls in love with the best friend of Bella’s sometime-lover Philip Westland (sometimes because Bella has also enjoyed female lovers) Bella and Philip attempt to escape the jilted and irate Robert Judd and bring their two young friends together. Judd, it seems, cares not a whit about his lovely intended and is only after the famous Skillane pearls, which Mary is due to inherit.
The plot may seem familiar and simple, but what Thompson does best is to soak us in the sensations of Victorian London and life. Throughout the adventure, we feel we are in the midst of characters who must have lived and breathed in 1876 England. Glimpses of historical events are peppered throughout the pages. But there’s more here than borrowing a backdrop. The atmosphere is delicious, tangible, and irresistible. The dialogue is believably Victorian. And Bella Wallis is a joy to follow around through a few hundred pages. She’s a complex woman who lives not only her own life to its fullest, she also has to cope with her arrogant alter ego, Henry Ellis Margam, the sensationalist author.