Author - Sophia Tobin
Published - January 2014
Genre – Historical fiction
Firstly a word of warning about this book for crime fiction readers – although it opens with a murder and ends with the identification of the murderer, this is much more a work of historical fiction than it is crime fiction. However, the mystery of who despatched the unpopular silversmith Pierre Renard is one that kept me guessing all the way to the end.
Set in London 1792, the murder of Renard sets in motion a series of events which will impact a number of people with whom he had dealings, not least his wife Mary. It soon becomes clear that her life with Renard wasn’t happy and that although her situation becomes precarious after his death, she is not sorry that he is gone. Mary seems a weak woman and prone to believe in the supernatural, but as the story unfolds it becomes clear that she wasn’t always like this, and there are secrets within the family that explain her frame of mind.
Each chapter opens with an excerpt from Renard’s own diary in the period leading up to his death and fills in some of the backstory. It’s interesting to be privy to his thoughts and the impact of his actions as the story unfolds for the other characters. The author deftly weaves together the lives of the seemingly unconnected characters, prompting some ‘aha!’ moments as you suddenly realise how they fit into place. Although Mary Renard is the central character, she shares the stage with a number of other equally well-drawn characters. I thought all the characters showed a very believable mix of good and bad, positive and negative, although it was probably the silversmith Alban Steele who came out as the most decent for me.
Much is made in the blurb of Sophia Tobin’s own knowledge of the silver and jewellery trade in London and the historical research she has carried out – which made me worry that there would be a lot of background detail to demonstrate this knowledge. It was a relief to find that this wasn’t the case and that whilst the craft is central to the story it never felt as if there was more detail than was relevant, but the insights into the work that I did glean were fascinating.
More than a murder mystery this is a beautifully written debut with a love story at its heart, set against a vividly portrayed Georgian London.
Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for the review copy of the book, and you can see another review at Emma Lee’s Blog.