The Silversmith’s Wife

Written by Sophia Tobin
Review by Tracey Warr

On a dark night in late 18th-century London, a night watchman stumbles across a man with his throat slit. At the inquest no one has much trouble speaking ill of the dead: an ambitious silversmith with a shop in Bond Street. His wife bears the psychological scars of his bullying and suffers from an extreme form of sleepwalking. Although Sophia Tobin’s story is set in the Georgian era, the novel has the sensibility of a Victorian novel, redolent with highly strung and repressed sexualities and populated by powerless women brutalised in marriage and patriarchy. This story of murder, mystery, greed, cruelty and infidelity is set amidst the grime, inequities and snobberies of 18th-century London. “Up and down these streets people were drinking themselves into unconsciousness, wagering livelihoods on the turn of a card, losing their virtues in golden palaces and dirty hovels.”

The story is told in a time stutter, jumping back and forth from the murder victim’s diary written seven months in advance of the main narrative. The handling of the mystery and context are tensely engaging, but the handling of the characters is less sure. The nightwatchman and a lady’s maid develop into complex characters, but the silversmith’s wife, and the man who wants to become her second husband, remain tantalisingly pale. A page-turning story steeped in melancholy that keeps the reader guessing with twists and turns, and shoals of red herrings.