June 2019 My Book Box Mystery Selection
Doretha Truelove, one of the central characters of this book, reminds one a bit of Doretha in Middlemarch. Both women see marriage as secondary, though Truelove seems far more open to the idea of romantic love, and both women have an interest in academic pursuits as well as helping those less fortune.
If Doretha Truelove is akin to Doretha from Middlemarch, then the other central character in the book Ruth, might harken to Dickens’ Oliver. As she says early in her story, if she had been born a boy, things might have been different.
Ruth has a tough life and she has been arrested on suspicion of murder. The jail that she finds herself in is, in part, administered by Doretha Truelove who wishes to study people’s skulls. The novel unfolds via these two points of views. The mysteries, and there is more than one, is whether or not Ruth can kill with her sewing talent and the issue of Doretha’s father. She faces an incoming step mother she has issues with, and she wants to marry.
The narrative is good, even if the voices are not entirely distinct – Ruth’s speech is less formal and more “yes miss”, and that is about it – and the use of mystery and magic works quite well. The ending is a humdinger, but it actually, truly works.
Doretha’s story is weaker than Ruth’s. In part this could because of narrative issues in terms of answers. But Ruth’s story is great. Based, in part, on a real-life case of young seamstress who was killed by her mistress, Ruth is an Oliver Twist story with a girl at the heart of it, and therefore, it becomes far darker. It is, perhaps, a truer story of what happens to lower class woman in Victorian London than Dicken’s Little Dorrit.
The book breathes its time and place. And while certain plot points raise an eyebrow at times (Ruth is attending a finishing school at the start of the novel), there is an energy and drive that carries the book and reader. I literally did not go to bad until I finished this book. So, it might have wrinkles that stop it from being a five star (I’m sorry, I know why the finishing school is there, but it doesn’t quite work), it is a book you will not want to put down.