Ribchester’s debut: in shadowy 1912 London, an intrepid female reporter tries to interview a sexy, mysterious suffragette/trapeze artist only to be thrust into a complex intrigue involving corsets, bomb plots, and exotic dancers.
Francesca “Frankie” George has fled marriage to the butcher’s son to live her journalistic dream in the big city, but her editor only publishes the society column she writes each week with the input of Twinkle, an aging courtesan. When he asks her to interview the infamous Ebony Diamond, Frankie discovers that the beautiful trapeze artist and former suffragette has become the target of a murderer. Then Ebony disappears, and Frankie enlists help from Milly, an “Egyptian” dancer with her own snake; Liam, an errand boy; and, eventually, Inspector Frederick Primrose of the “suffragette squad.” Soon they're confronting, in no particular order: militant suffragettes; a (possible) victim of Jack the Ripper; a secret club for powerful men who like to wear corsets; an escaped tiger; a man sent to prison for smashing windows; a militant moralist; a bomb plot to rival Guy Fawkes’; and Ebony herself, the shadow at the heart of all this drama. Ribchester leaves nothing out, no stone unturned and no drama unexplored, which is a big gamble, but the novel feels expertly paced and plotted. Despite all the drama, there are some very tender and slow unspoolings of character development and relationship, and these moments help anchor those more histrionic points. The characters complement one another brilliantly, and the novel actually brings some sharp insights to the history of the women’s movement, its worth and its foibles, and the horrible realities of force-feedings and other jailhouse humiliations.
How can one resist such a deliciously over-the-top, historically savvy novel? A romp with flair and substance.