I don’t normally read much historical fiction, and when the publisher sent me a proof copy of this debut novel a good while ago, I wasn’t sure about it, but added it to my pile as publication was still months away. Later, when Anne from Random Tours invited people to join the blogtour, I realised that this book was a heist thriller – but just with an historical setting. Well! That made all the difference. You know me and thrillers – and to find one with a unique take on the genre was brilliant.
Our setting is Edwardian London, 1905 and the grandest mansion on Park Lane. It begins with Shepherd, the Butler, demanding the keys back from Mrs King, the housekeeper, who has been dismissed for being seen in the gentlemens’ quarters – we’ll uncover more about this later…
It was important that she didn’t look over her shoulder on the way out. The wrong look at the wrong person could betray her, spoil things when they were only just underway. […]
She stepped into the news lane, alone. Heard the distant rumble of motors, saw a clutch of wild poppies growing out of a crack in the paving stones. They were being neglected, trampled, yearning upwards to the sky. She plucked one, pressed a fragile crimson petal in her palm, held it warm. She took it with her.
Her first theft.
Or, rather: the first correction. It wasn’t simply stealing, not at all.
The lady of the house, heiress Miss de Vries has been planning a ball. She’s supposed to be still in mourning for her late Papa, but a ball she wants, and she started planning it with Mrs King. Mr Lockwood, the family solicitor wasn’t impressed. He’s keen to get her married off, but finds the idea of a ball while she’s supposed to be in mourning rather vulgar. But it will go ahead, even without Mrs King (who we soon discover has never been a Mrs at all).
Mrs King has had a very special kind of revenge in mind – for what, I couldn’t possibly say. She and her extensive crew will carry out a robbery, to steal the entire contents of the mansion under the revellers noses. To do that she’ll need to build a team, and she knows exactly who she needs.
Over the next chapters, we follow Mrs King as she recruits, and sets things in motion. There’s Winnie the prostitute, there’s actress Hepzibah, and there’s Mrs Bone for starters. There are her loyal friends on the inside of the house – downstairs – and there’s sewing maid Alice, who will have a pivotal role.
This is one of those thrillers that you don’t want to say too much about for fear of spoiling things. There is a large cast of characters, mostly women, and sometimes it is hard to keep track of who is doing what, but that doesn’t really matter, there is also a lot crammed into the complicated plot. The action is fast and furious as the women work on meticulously planning Mrs King’s revenge plot.
Will they pull the heist off? Will things go wrong?
Most importantly, why is Mrs King doing this?
All will be resolved one way or another, as the pages fly by with many twists and turns that kept me reading. Once started, I didn’t want to stop. Hay has created a brilliant female lead in Mrs King, and surrounded her with a superb crew. Hay has done his research into the location and period, and the atmosphere is spot on, it’s very visual. And I could imagine the gang going on to carry out heists at big houses all over Europe! A super thriller, an ideal summer read, and worth the hype. I so enjoyed it.
Source: Review copy – Thank you. Headline Review hardback, 416 pages.
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