London -- fiction
Eel’s early morning spent scavenging on the Thames River as a “mud-lark” brought a few things to the surface. There was a nice piece of copper, but he had to give that over to one of the stronger mud-larkers, a kindly blacksmith turned to this low way of making a living. But he did come away with two valuable things—or at least valuable to him. One was a half-drowned cat, thrown into the river by a bully boy. The other was a word of warning from the old blacksmith. Fish-Eye Bill was looking for him again, he said. A year Eel had spent in an easier life, getting his schooling, working two jobs and staying away from places he might be seen by Bill’s crew. It sounded like the makings for serious danger. Though in Deborah Hopkinson’s The Great Trouble, Eel’s problems are only beginning.
“Ye Toads and Vipers!”
Meggy Swann has reason to be angry. Her mother had finally succeeded in getting rid of her, having her dumped miles and miles from home at her father’s tiny house in London. She’s never met him before, and he clearly doesn’t want her. It’s not like she can run away somewhere else though. An accident at birth has left her legs crooked, and she is in constant pain.
Only able to walk with the help of two sticks, the world of 1573 can be an especially cruel place for such a one, but she has angrily adapted. Alchemy and Meggy Swann, by Karen Cushman, tells her story from the time she is dumped like a sack on her father’s narrow doorstep, frightened and seemingly helpless, to the brave things she must do to protect herself and others she has come to love.
Tessa Harris’ The Anatomist’s Apprentice plunges the reader into the viscera of 18th-century English culture and crime.
The English Monster, by Lloyd Shepherd, blends two stories of horror—one short, sharp, and bloody while the other is a slow unraveling of a man’s conscience.
October, 1564: A handsome young man, just married and very much in love, travels a dangerous path to the port of Plymouth, England, where he hopes to find a berth on a ship bound for adventure, but more importantly, riches to make their new life together secure. It is try and succeed or fail and never return for William Ablass. His letter of introduction earns him a place on board Captain Hawkins’ vessel where he becomes shipmates and friends with Francis Drake, later “El Draco,” the terror of the Spanish fleet. Their adventures succeed in turning a golden profit but at a very dark cost.
For those who have followed Charlotte and Thomas Pitt from their awkward yet charming days of courtship in The Cater Street Hangman, Anne Perry’s recent Dorchester Terrace is a very enjoyable continuation of the series. Thomas has risen far since his days as a regular London policeman. He’s now head of Special Branch, a reward for his brilliant detective work and, probably not incidentally, saving Queen Victoria from a dastardly plot.
But, in class-conscious, 19th-century Britain, family background matters a lot to some people. Thomas, a gamekeeper’s son, often encounters people who question his ability to do his job when they find out who he isn’t. One of those is his immediate predecessor as head of Special Branch, Victor Narraway. In the preceding novel, Victor lost his job to Thomas almost but not quite disgracefully and rather lost his heart to Thomas’ clever and kind wife, Charlotte. Charlotte, born to live in Narraway’s world of privilege, has assisted her husband’s investigations through the years, but now that he is privy to so many state secrets, that will surely change—won’t it?
Alexander McCall Smith’s Corduroy Mansions is about Family. The group of tenants in the genteel but slightly shabby house in the Pimlico neighborhood in London cares about each other and finds joy in the simple things in life.
This is an ensemble piece with a simple plot and many eccentric and likable characters. There is William French, a widower and wine merchant, who cannot get his 24-year-old son to move out. He “borrows’ Freddy de la Hay, a terrier with human behavior and thoughts, to get the dog-hating Eddie to move out. Instead, William’s ersatz girlfriend moves in. On the floor below live four young women: Dee works in a health food shop; Caroline is studying art history at Sotheby’s; Jenny is MP Oedipus Snark’s assistant; Jo, an Australian, is assistant manager at a local wine bar. Below them lives a quiet accountant in his mid-forties called Basil Wickramsinghe. The characters touch each other’s lives and have moral dilemmas to solve.