Written by Kate Griffin — Following Kate Griffin’s debut Victorian crime thriller, Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders, we once again find ourselves transported back to the 1880s to the gaslit alleyways of Limehouse. Kitty has now inherited Paradise, a criminal network previously ruled by the fearsome Lady Ginger. Though she’s a teenage girl, Kitty finds herself head of this criminal empire and is desperate to assert her authority in the face of her fellow Barons, who run London’s other criminal organisations.
Due to events in the first book, Kitty is estranged from her beloved brother, Joey, and travels to Paris with her loyal Italian sidekick Lucca to seek him out. When she tracks him down, he asks her to help him by smuggling a baby of uncertain background back to London. They do this but within days of her return to England, attempts are made to find and murder the child by perpetrators unknown, for reasons unclear. Just what is the importance of this baby, and how is he linked to a secret at the heart of the British Empire?
It’s always a good sign when, having missed the first of the series, the second inspires you to seek it out forthwith. Due to Kate Griffin’s authentic depiction of both the period and environs of Victorian London, you cannot help but be completely immersed in the penny dreadful atmosphere of the novel. By re-imagining the theatrical world that Kitty operates her businesses within, both legal and illegal, Griffin gives us a real sense of day-to-day life in the Victorian entertainment scene. Mirroring the attention to period detail shown by other Victorian crime fiction writers such as Lee Jackson, the world of the music hall sings from the page. Equally, Griffin captures perfectly the overall look and feel of the less salubrious aspects of both London and Paris from graveyards to sewer sytems, and the befouled streets that lie between them.
The author balances the more natural characters in The Child of Ill Fortune with a random cast of grotesques in the true spirit of the penny dreadful. Kitty is charming throughout, and is quickly growing into her new responsibilities, feeling her way inch by inch into this unknown world that Lady Ginger has bequeathed to her. There is a wonderful balance between the more girlish aspects of her personality and the maturity she assumes as the book progresses. Aided by her stalwart companion Lucca; the air-headed Peggy, who is entrusted with the care of the baby; and the sinister figure of Tan Seng, her Chinese protector, Kitty has a solid group of good guys. And with good guys come bad guys, some obvious and some not so, particularly the Machiavellian figure of the odious Lady Ginger herself, who keeps Kitty on her toes and sometimes completely in the dark. All of the characters, whether centre stage or passing through, are beautifully realised and more importantly, believable.
Although the plot is a little patchy in places, this shouldn’t impede your enjoyment of the book as a whole. Read in the spirit of a traditional Victorian entertainment, Kitty Peck and the Child of Ill Fortune is full of rum doings, pantomime villains, passion and violence, interspersed with colourful colloquialisms and bawdy language. A few too many similes make their appearance, which gets a little irritating, but in the grand scheme of things that matters not a jot. Tremendous fun.
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Faber & Faber
CFL Rating: 4 Stars