From the moment that I read the blurb of this book, I knew I was going to like it. I mean, it’s a mystery novel set in Victorian London which heavily focuses on The Suffragette movement. What’s not to like? Add onto that the pretty cover design and the fact that it was three quid from a second hand bookshop and you have a very happy Sophie indeed! And I have to say it did not disappoint.
Our main character is Frankie, tomboy reporter who wants to write more than just the society column she is confined to. What should be a simple interview piece turns into something far more complex as the subject goes missing amid murders and political intrigue. I have to say, I really liked Frankie. She can be a little quick to judgement and her temper gets the best of her a lot, but there’s something about her I just really liked.
Along the way she meets a whole host of other characters, my favourites being Milly the snake charming dancer and the ex-Victorian courtesan Twinkle. Twinkle initially seems like an overly judgey society lady but along the way she proves to be an absolutely invaluable ally and at the edges is more open minded than she initially seems. I liked the scene where she called Frankie & co out on their negative judgement on the corset fetishists. “It’s never the deviants who are the problem, Puss. Don’t forget that. It’s people who won’t open their minds that are dangerous”. She is also entirely to blame for getting my hopes up so much about a possible Frankie/Milly romance. If she hadn’t of inferred that Frankie was into women so much I wouldn’t have been so convinced that it could happen! But no, she’s just assuming that Frankie’s gay cos she wears trousers. Sad times. Not gonna lie, I am heavily disappointed that Frankie and Milly didn’t elope at the end! I like to think I’m not just reading too much into it, they totally opened up to each other in a way they hadn’t with anyone else, so I totally think they fancied each other. Who knows, maybe there’ll be a sequel and they can be reunited? Lucy Ribchester take note, Gay Frankie and Bisexual Milly are the way forward. You can thank me later.
Seeing as I like learning about both history and feminism, the focus on the Suffragette movement was something I really enjoyed. Some of the stuff mentioned I already knew about, but there was also a whole bunch of events and names that I didn’t so this was definitely educational as well as interesting. There were two main things that I think Ribchester did well. The first was the reality of it all. These weren’t just women marching with placards, these are women fighting for their rights, chaining themselves to statues, being beaten by the police, going to prison, being sentenced to hard labour, and all for the right to vote and claim a voice. The description of the force feeding was awful and really brought home the amount of suffering that went into earning the right to vote. It’s something that of course I know about but reading this did make me feel incredibly lucky that there were so many brave women who suffered for my right to have a political voice. The big names like the Pankhurst’s are remembered but there are scores of women who fought and suffered and whose names got lost along the way. And I am so thankful they existed.
I also liked that this book acknowledges the limits to the movement. Namely that it is one geared towards a certain class of woman. I can’t remember which character it is, I think it’s the warden at the asylum, who points out that the movement as it is is useless to her. She can’t own land so the vote means nothing to her. To the working class woman who is never going to own property, the aims of the suffrage movement weren’t really relevant. Whilst it is incredibly important to remember what these women went through for their right to vote, it is equally as important to remember those who this didn’t apply to.
Moving back to the book, I enjoyed trying to piece together the mystery. I would make a rubbish detective because I simultaneously suspect everyone and never guess the culprit correctly. I did manage to guess pieces of this puzzle but there were lots of little surprises along the way as well. Ultimately, I did really enjoy this book! It was a thoroughly entertaining mystery with a good cast of characters. Although everything gets concluded very tidily, I think it’s left open enough that there could be a sequel at some point maybe! (Never letting go of Frankie/Milly. I will go down with this ship!) Even if not, I would be interested to see what else Lucy Ribchester writes.