A Most Dangerous Woman
By L M Jackson
Stoke Newington-based author L M Jackson’s latest offering, A Most Dangerous Woman, may not have any direct Stokie connection – but who cares? It’s a gloriously convoluted Victorian thriller, stuffed with the effortless period detail that has become Jackson’s trademark. (Check out his Victorian London website www.victorianlondon.org to get a handle on the extent of his fixation: it’s clear he knows his stuff.)
It’s got the atmosphere (choking fog, mostly, with lashings of grime, a good few open sewers, decaying inner-city boarding houses, and a crumbling transport system – very like our own dear London), the villains (see below), several damsels in distress, and characters from above and below the salt who are no better than they should be – and some who should be much better than they are.
Our heroine Sarah Tanner, ‘has a past’. Not a good thing for a single woman with no visible means of support in mid-Victorian London. But she’s also determined to have a future of her own making, away from the stew-pots and gaming houses that would otherwise beckon and with which she was once perhaps over familiar. Her new coffee house, in Leather Lane, prospers, in defiance of all expectations – until her past, inevitably, catches up with her. In a dimly lit alley. As you would expect.
Several murders later, we’re deep into spineless aristos, ‘well-meaning’ city philanthropists with high minded ideals and serial flaws, at least four hopelessly dodgy geezers, a malevolent servant, a trusty if elderly side-kick, madams, card sharks, a corrupt Peeler, and more plot twists than a double reefer knot. And lots of bodies.
Our redoubtable Sarah, as streetwise as a hoody, but probably better-equipped, ploughs through the deceptions, the blackmail, the double-dealing – and some more murders – to expose several layers of villainy. Oh, and she kills people en route. Quite the delicate Victorian lady.
Perfect for the poolside or the park: enjoy. You can even pretend you’re catching up on social history. Until you get to the garroting… more throat-slitter than bodice ripper. And all the better for it.
William Heinemann, £14.99
Review by Anne Beech