Books by Jessica Stirling

Released: Feb. 1, 2015

"Whatever Joyce scholars may think of one of the world's most ambitious novels being spun off into a whodunit, Stirling's (The Marrying Kind, 1996, etc.) clever, bawdy mystery-cum-court case stands up well in its own right. Picking up the pace would have made it even better."
Characters from James Joyce's Ulysses enjoy new life—except for the unfortunate soul who suffers a bloody death.Read full book review >
THE MARRYING KIND by Jessica Stirling
Released: July 1, 1996

Admirers of Stirling's The Penny Wedding (1995), a companionable story of loves and marriages in a struggling 1930s Glasgow family, will find this sequel even more persistently involving. Here, four love affairs marooned on the jagged rocks of circumstance and obsession eventually sail into happy marital harbors. Alison Burnside, previously rescued by one-armed teacher Jim Abbott from a dreary life keeping house for her father and four brothers, is now in her first year of medical school. Among her university ``team'' is the dirt-poor but charming Irishman Declan Slater, who attracts to his cold-water digs not only the handsome Roberta, daughter of a famous surgeon, but Alison, who's starved for the exciting physical attention fiancÇ Jim seems too repressed to give. Alison will also be confused by her passing attraction to the elegant Howard, another teammate, and Roberta will consider without enthusiasm the prospect of marriage with stuffy Guy. But soon Roberta is forced to give up a medical career—and maybe her reputation as well. And what of Alison's brothers? Jack's blowzy wife Brenda, the mother of twins, is stirred by an old flame; and Henry, married to German Trudi, is sent by his newspaper to Hitler's Germany and discovers some shocking truths about Trudi and an emerging terror he couldn't have imagined. What will become of his marriage? At the last, Alison and Jim—for a time a patient in a TB hospital—shake out true feelings from a leaf-cover of misunderstandings and pretense. Like Stirling's dramas set in earlier eras, this is lively with bright dialogue and an easy pace, allowing plenty of room for commentary and romance. A gossip-gala of considerable charm. Read full book review >
THE PENNY WEDDING by Jessica Stirling
Released: June 1, 1995

In a change of pace from her rugged 18th-century dramas dealing with love, murder and scandal (Shadows on the Shore, 1994, etc.), Stirling returns to more peaceful domestic doings—this time in a tale of love and marriage within a Glasgow family circa 1930. When Maeve Burnside—wife of workingman Alex, mother of four grown sons and studious Alison (16)- -suddenly dies, children and husband grieve deeply. But hard times and layoffs are in the wind, and all soon rally for crises. Must Alison give up her dreams of a career, leave school, and care for Dad and the boys? Tough old Grandmother Gilfillan lectures her on Duty, but Alison and father Alex stand their ground. (Much later Grandmother's iron will turn out to be golden). Jim Abbott, one-armed war veteran and local schoolteacher, will guide Alison on to academic glory while smothering his love and desire for her. Meantime, eldest Burnside son Henry, writing for a radical journal (with tongue in cheek), loves a married, German beauty, Trudi, and procures not only her freedom but a job for himself on a major newspaper. Jack, the trumpet player, blasts along in jazz bands, and prim Bertie discovers—and evades censure for—his closet proclivities. (Not much is heard about Davy, but he's sure to be ``jake.'') Then there's Alex, now an out-of-work loller and consumer of Trudi's cuisine, until Trudi and widowed Ruby, a neighbor and barmaid, conspire to drop the marital net. It all ends with a bang-up wedding and—surprisingly, considering the initially mellow tone—a judicious, diminished-seventh coda to the mutual love of Alison and teacher Jim. For Anglophiles whose affections reach to the River Clyde: another likable family tale with Stirling's trademark amusing asides—a special treat here is her portrait of a celebrated ``Celtic Bard'' soused to the ears and a-croon in Gaelic. Read full book review >
SHADOWS ON THE SHORE by Jessica Stirling
Released: March 1, 1994

A sequel to the author's Lantern for the Barn (1992), that lowering, robustly peopled novel about an infanticide trial in 1788 Glasgow. The time is now 1802, and the acquitted mother, recently widowed after a post-trial marriage, finds herself mistress of a considerable estate and a flourishing salt works in Ayrshire. Enter that rogue, cheat, and extraordinary lover Frederick Striker, father of the murdered baby; although he was not responsible, he's no stranger to untimely deaths. Frederick Striker had arrived on a dark and stormy night by sea, determined to marry Clare. Although she had been certain ``her rage was impermeable,'' Clare is dismayed to discover that she draws, still, a split-second pleasure from Frederick. Also lodging in Clare's house is the French scientist Henri Leblanc, a student of Lavoisier, who promises great inventions based on the interaction of gases. To the surprise of all, Clare appoints Frederick her factor in the salt works and provides Henri (who is charming Clare's young daughter) with a laboratory. In the meantime, Frederick lures former enemies into plots not only to profit from Henri's work, but also to gain ownership of Clare's estate. Also pursuing Frederick are an Irish beauty, who's not only his lover but also the daughter of his vanished wife, and the wife of a local industrialist. Before Clare, who's done her own plotting, takes her long-awaited revenge, there'll be a killing, a monstrous birth during a stormy catastrophe in the church, murderous games (there's an almost-hanging), and various (arranged) explosions from Henri's laboratory. Not as concentrated in dramatic plausibility, perhaps, as Lantern, but the heroines are gritty, keen, and hard-working; the ambiance is realistically seaside-rugged; and Stirling has again gathered a group of well-intentioned-to-deadly beings from whom she wrings plenty of melodrama, suspense, and gossip. Read full book review >
LANTERN FOR THE DARK by Jessica Stirling
Released: June 1, 1992

A striking, handsomely staged and peopled court drama and mystery set in the rough-edged city of Glasgow, Scotland, of 1787- 88. A young woman is on trial for infanticide, while among those closest to her break currents of rage, greed, lust, and also compassion. Stirling, author of several meaty historicals set in Scotland roughly of the same period, has produced a rich and solid entertainment. In court, the judges ``lolled like lions'' while one ``stroked a long feather quill with fingers like a kestrel's claws.'' The prisoner, beautiful Clare Kelso, nursery servant and very distant relation of the banking family of Purves, is accused of feeding arsenic to her baby Peterkin, sired, without benefit of marriage, by a Mr. Frederick Striker, a glittering newcomer to Glasgow, a merchant in interesting (and rather foggy) commodities. Clare admits to feeding the baby a powder she thought was sulphur (a common remedy for rashes). Among those attending the trial: kind Andrew Purves, who had encouraged what he thought would be an advantageous marriage for Clare to Striker, and who himself has found a deep and exotic love; Edwina, Andrew's horrid wife who lusted after Striker; a Purves country cousin, in whose company poor Clare attended her first ball; and widowed Eunice Bates, Striker's sister, statuesque and stunning but with a scarred face, who loves her brother in spite of their shared deadly secret. If Clare did not kill the baby (and that seems obvious)—who packed the fatal powder? Who would gladly see Clare die—or save her, perhaps for a special nasty reason? Throughout are scenes of crowded rooms and streets, inns, busy kitchens, and open roads. Again, Stirling's character sketches, even of walk-ons, are memorable: an apothecary clerk was ``as small as a leveret...[with] a pinkness about his eyes that suggested he wept often and long.'' With occasional bursts of neo-Dickensian observation and a leisurely pace, here's a novel to be savored slowly. Read full book review >