Laura Skippen is an obsessive reader and loves crime books, thrillers and history, preferably all three. All this reading (others might call it procrastination) means she has yet to get any of her own ideas on paper.
On a freezing night in 1792, the silversmith Pierre Renard is found by the night watchman with his throat cut in upmarket Berkeley Square. Mary Renard, his wife, is looking back with regret on their marriage when she receives the news of her husband’s untimely death. As the story unfolds it becomes very clear why she regrets her marriage but less clear why she feels so guilty and whether she is responsible for ending it.
Sophia Tobin’s debut novel opens with a murder so classifies as a crime novel, but the focus of this story is never really on the investigation of this murder. The lives of the characters still living are far more engaging, especially as Pierre Renard is not a likeable man. Each chapter begins in the silversmith’s voice with extracts from his diary in the months before his death and moves on to the present action, demonstrating the differences in how he saw the world and how we see him. He may be the victim but he is certainly the villain in this story. There are many other ambivalent characters, from the lowly night watchman to the highborn clientele of the silversmith, all of whose lives are interconnected. Whilst many of them are flawed they are all intriguing and you’ll find yourself rooting both for the good and the less good as different parts of their histories and personalities are revealed.
I didn’t feel drawn into the past in the way I hope for when I read an historical novel, but this isn’t actually a criticism as much as a tribute to how easy it is to empathise with the characters and how modern their feelings seem despite their very different lives. It is the people who shine most as this is not a book that really packs in the action, but there is plenty of atmosphere and you can feel the cold and the dark of the London streets which are a character in themselves. A good winter read.