It’s time to re-enter the world of historical fiction with a murder mystery set in 1799.
In August, an artist is found murdered in his home – stabbed with a pair of scissors. Matthew Harvey’s death is much discussed in the city. The scissors are among the tools of his trade – for Harvey is a renowned cutter and painter of shades, or silhouettes, the latest fashion in portraiture. It soon becomes clear that the murderer must be one of the artist’s last sitters, and the people depicted in the final six shades made by him become the key suspects. But who are they? And where are they to be found?
Later, in November, a clever but impoverished young gentleman called Fletcher Rigge languishes in the debtor’s prison, until a letter arrives containing a bizarre proposition from the son of the murdered man. Rigge is to be released for one month, but in that time, he must find the killer. If he fails, he will be incarcerated again, possibly for life.
And so, with everything at stake, and equipped only with copies of the distinctive silhouettes, Fletcher Rigge begins his search across the snow-covered city, and enters a world of shadows…
I’d like to start this review by saying – Mr Rigge is a wonderful character and I loved his humour. In fact, this novel has very interesting characters indeed. On Rigge’s journey to discover who the people behind the shade paintings are, he travels from York to London, from the theatre to seedy gaming dens – it all made for enjoyable reading.
There’s no straight forward narrative here, several different documents from several of the characters tells this story – diary entries, letters and memorandums, to name a few – these documents have been put together by Mr Erskine, a lawyer, who is sending them to the Chief Magistrate of York. A few times in the novel, we are given a document, Mr Erskine then briefly comments that he will not share the other document by a different person as they say a similar thing. This tactic creates unreliable narration as, without both accounts, you’re not entirely sure what to believe.
In all honestly, I struggled with this book, I was able to follow the story but I think I missed certain things – I say that because, on reading other reviews for this title, I wonder if I read the same book because it appears I missed so much. This book is set in 18th century England and the language reflects that time period so to enjoy this novel, you must get on board with that fact – I read this book on my kindle and there were a few times I used the dictionary assistance to find the meaning of words. This didn’t hinder my enjoyment, most times you can infer the meaning of the words from the context in which they’re used, but I just wanted to make certain. I mention this because while Martin used this language in a way that created a delightfully dark atmosphere, it, along with the formatting of the story, may have been the cause of me not fully grasping all that occurred in the novel.
This is not a criticism in anyway, more the novel was too cleverly structured for my basic brain. Regardless, what I took from this novel, I enjoyed – especially the dark humour and the character of Mr Fletcher Rigge.