Published by Canelo
Available in ebook and audio (13 May 2019)
Genre: Historical Mystery
About the Book
‘It’s strange, the way fortune deals her hand.’
The year is 1759 and London is shrouded in a cloak of fear. With the constables at the mercy of highwaymen, it’s a perilous time to work the already dangerous streets of Soho. Lizzie Hardwicke makes her living as a prostitute, somewhat protected from the fray as one of Mrs Farley’s girls. But then one of her wealthy customers is found brutally murdered… and Lizzie was the last person to see him alive.
Constable William Davenport has no hard evidence against Lizzie but his presence and questions make life increasingly difficult. Desperate to be rid of him and prove her innocence Lizzie turns amateur detective, determined to find the true killer, whatever the cost.
Yet as the body count rises Lizzie realises that, just like her, everyone has a secret they will do almost anything to keep buried…
My thanks to Ellie of Canelo for the tour invitation and for providing the extract. I really wished I had been able to fit in a read of this as it looks just my type of book but I have bought a Kindle copy to read/review when I can.
Sydney opened the door with an air so unruffled that it gave me no clue as to the level of noise and chaos I was about to find. This was his job: to present a dignified welcome to our guests.
I winked at him.
‘How bad is it? I stayed away as long as I dared.’
His face remained impassive for a moment before he frowned, raised a long finger and wagged it at me.
‘Miss Lizzie, where ‘av you been? Mrs Farlee, she ‘as been looking for you, bad girl!’
That was not a good sign. Sydney’s accent becomes more French the more agitated he is.
‘I was caught up in something at the Bardwell’s.’
‘Vite,’ he said, flapping his hands at me. ‘Get upstairs now. Mrs Farlee is in the parlour giving the wishes to the maids.’ He looked at me with a disappointed expression. ‘She will not be pleased to see you dressed as this.’
Sydney wasn’t pleased either. He, always immaculate, preferred us to leave the house in our Sunday best. He would never have understood how hunger had outweighed my desire to be beautiful. Even now I was captivated by the delicious smells that were wafting from the kitchen.
I scurried up to my room and found a gown laid on the bed. The pale blue with silver thread embroidery would show my blue eyes to good advantage and there was a velvet mask in a similar shade. I would be elegant and mysterious; at least for a few minutes.
I heard the sound of feet shuffling heavily on the landing outside my door and smiled. There was a gentle tap and Meg, one of our servants, peeped in.
‘Would you like a hand with your dressing yet, miss?’
‘Thank you. I would.’ I am happy to dress myself, but Ma expected perfection – and I really cannot be trusted to manage that alone.
Meg was a slight creature, a cripple with deformed legs who hauled herself up and down our stairs and shared our lives, but not our trade. She was a hard-working girl, with a keen eye for fashion. Had it not been for her deformity she would have been an elegant lady of the town. Had it not been for Mrs Farley, she would be selling her twisted body for a shilling on the streets. At some point in her life, and with a wisdom beyond her years, she had decided that being a servant in a comfortable bawdy house was preferable to the alternative; at least here she was warm, fed, unbothered by men and surrounded by silks and lace – even if others wore the pretty clothes.
She was also a gossip, and a gossip with opinions. While she helped me into petticoats and gown and combed and fixed my curls into a high dome, she gave her own account of the afternoon’s events. Lucy had been sent the wrong hairdresser and taken an hour to calm down – which was hardly news. Of greater interest was the arrival of Amelia’s love, Tommy.
‘He turned up at the house and was banging on the door. Sydney wouldn’t let him in and he caused a real commotion.’
‘Her young man? He came here? Is he handsome?’
Meg, world-weary at fifteen, laughed.
‘You can judge for yourself. In the end, he was making such a nuisance in the street that Ma let him in. Sydney was furious.’ She gestured towards the attic. ‘He’s still here.’
‘What? On a party night?’ Ma really had gone soft in her old age.
She pressed a small beauty spot to my cheek.
‘Miss Blackwood’s been told to stay in the attic and keep out of the way. And the boy, Tommy Bridgewater, is to leave before the guests arrive.’ Naturally. Ma would be very keen to keep her little lamb as white as possible, even if she wasn’t entirely pure.
The fussing was near enough complete to Meg’s satisfaction, and I was ready to entertain our guests. It had taken a while, but eventually, Lizzie the eater of London’s pies and frequenter of its taverns became Miss Lizzie Hardwicke of Mrs Farley’s Berwick Street establishment, resplendent in her finery and ready for the evening’s sport. The thought of good food, plenty of wine and the delightful Charles Stanford was raising my enthusiasm for the evening ahead. This was my career now; and even if much of it was disagreeable, there were sometimes compensations.
Still, I wanted to catch a glimpse of Amelia’s Tommy.
‘I haven’t quite finished your hair! There’s no powder in it.’ Too late. I was out of my room and skipping down the stairs to our little parlour – peeping into the best salon to catch a glimpse of the glorious table beginning to be set with treats by servants hired especially for the evening. The room was full of candles. I could already see the dishes of biscuits and pickles and plates of oysters, and space for so much more.
I found Amelia sitting at the same place as yesterday with Polly and Lucy. She was still weeping, too, but her tears were fresh. Here was a new drama. Ma was nowhere to be seen: she would be directing the servants’ operations on the floor above with all the comprehensiveness of a general preparing for battle. Emily was standing, hand on hip, near to the fire. She watched with a look of disdain as Polly stroked Amelia’s hand.
I didn’t notice him immediately, but with his back to the company, gazing out of the window, was a brown-haired man whom I took to be Tommy.
‘Lizzie! Where have you been?’ Emily was always keen to know my whereabouts. I think she worried that I was stealing her custom.
‘What a lovely gown,’ said Polly.
‘Meg thinks it does wonders for my complexion,’ I ignored Emily. ‘I’m going to try and keep it on for the whole evening.’
‘Hush,’ said Polly, nodding her head towards Amelia.
I gestured towards the young man.
‘Will you introduce me? I assume he isn’t a guest for tonight?’
Lucy stood and led me to the man. He had the strong shoulders and arms of a blacksmith, but, barely more than a boy, his cheeks were still soft and he had eyes like a kindly-treated puppy. Another innocent in this den of corruption. I sank into a polite curtsey.
‘Mr Bridgewater, I am delighted to meet you in the flesh, having heard so much of your good character from our new friend Amelia.’
He blushed a little and bowed. The serious expression he wore didn’t suit him at all. This was a young man more used to smiling.
‘Miss Hardwicke, I am grateful to you and these other ladies for your hospitality, but I hope to take Amelia away from this house very soon. Very soon indeed.’
‘What a shame, when we were only just making her acquaintance. I take it that you have found employment?’
His lovely eyes betrayed the truth.
‘I am well on my way to securing a new post, Miss Hardwicke. A good farrier is always welcome where gentlemen keep horses. Horses always need shoeing.’
‘I am very pleased to hear that, Mr Bridgewater. And your lodgings? They are nearby?’
His was too easy a countenance to read.
‘I hope to come by something very soon, miss.’
I hoped so too. Amelia’s future would be only slightly better than Sallie’s otherwise. Indeed, it would look like mine – and I didn’t wish that on her.
The door opened, and Ma swept in. There are some who believe that Mrs Farley is still a handsome woman when she wears her finest clothes. Mrs Farley certainly believes it, and she had dressed accordingly. Her silk gown was blood red, her hair was powdered and immaculate, and around her neck and in her ears sumptuous jewels sparkled – gifts from the wealthy lovers of her golden years. The face, however, was that of a woman who had drunk sour milk.
‘Why are you still here?’ She was looking at Tommy. ‘I told you to get out of my house. Guests will be arriving at any moment and your presence is not required.’ She surveyed the rest of the room with displeasure.
‘All of you: upstairs at once. And Amelia, you are not to come down from your room until tomorrow morning. You must not be in the way.’
‘Unless she fancies joining in,’ Emily whispered to me with a wink.
I snatched up my mask and pushed Amelia out of the door towards the stairs.
About the Author
Georgina Clarke has a degree in theology and a PhD in history but has only recently started to combine her love of the past with a desire to write stories. Her Lizzie Hardwicke series is set in the mid-eighteenth century, an underrated and often neglected period, but one that is rich in possibility for a crime novelist.
She enjoys running along the banks of the River Severn and is sometimes to be found competing in half marathons. In quieter moments, she also enjoys dressmaking.
She lives in Worcester with her husband and son, and two extremely lively kittens