""A wonderfully ripe, imaginative and gripping piece of Victorian pastiche."" --The London Times July 1840: The young Queen Victoria has just entered her third year on the throne when a major recession brings London's desperate and destitute into its sweltering streets. While the city crackles with tension, orphaned Catherine Sorgeiul stays locked away in her uncle's home, a peculiar place where death masks adorn the walls and certain rooms are strictly forbidden. Nineteen years old and haunted by a dark past, Catherine becomes obsessed with a series of terrible murders of young girls sweeping the city. Details of the crimes are especially gruesome--the victims' hair has been newly plaited and thrust into their mouths, and their limbs are grotesquely folded behind them, like wounded birds--and the serial killer is soon nicknamed the Man of Crows. Catherine begins writing stories about the victims--women on their own and vulnerable in the big city--and gradually the story of the murderer as well. But she soon realizes that she has involved herself in a web of betrayal, deceit, and terror that threatens her and all those around her.
Biographer Williams (Becoming Queen) does something new with a familiar trope in her promising first novel, a thriller set in 1840 London. A Jack the Ripper-like serial killer, dubbed the Man of Crows, leaves his stabbed victims displayed with their hair stuffed into their mouths, their chests gouged in the shape of a star, and a penny placed on the exposed heart. The search for the murderer's identity largely falls to Catherine Sorgeiul, an orphan living with an ostensibly kindly uncle. Still adjusting to the tumult of the big city, Catherine also struggles with her own sexuality and the hypocrisies of early Victorian society, even as the body count rises. In one distinctive touch, the author has Catherine identify so closely with the Man of Crows' victims that she writes narratives in their names. Readers looking for more psychological sophistication than is usual in such historicals will be pleased. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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August 06, 2012
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