SWEET SONGBIRD by Teresa Crane


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Again, as in Molly (1982), Crane chronicles the life of a spunky heroine--this time one Kitty Daniels, who goes from rags in Suffolk in 1863 to riches as the toast of the Paris music halls in 1867, and then back, briefly, to rags in the besieged Paris of 1871. Orphans Kitty and light-fingered younger brother, Matt, flee from the viciousness of foppish Sir Percival, new owner of Westwood Grange, who beat Matt for thieving and locked Kitty into the cellar when she tried to return some of Matt's ill-gotten gains. After a brief sojourn in Colchester--where Matt joins a gang of toughs and where Kitty has a hopeless affair with the caddish, handsome son of the family for which she works as a nursery-maid/housekeeper--they set out for the bright lights of London. But the bright lights dim in the mean tenements of Whitechapel, where Matt is accepted as a ""fine-wirer"" (pickpocket) while Kitty finds work as a barmaid at a squalid supper-room, both part of the criminal web presided over by Moses Smith. Darkhaired, cynical Luke Peveral, master cracksman, is the other star of this sordid society, which includes Spider, Luke's sidekick and a tiny ex-jockey; Jem O'Connell, an American artist (with a faint resemblance to Whistler); Pol, the good-hearted whore; and the treacherous but lovely Lottie, who settles for Moses Smith when Luke and Kitty become an item, despite Kitty's contempt for Luke's means of livelihood and his influence on her brother. It's Luke who provides Kitty with the songs and the gimmick (dressing as a man) that lead to fame and fortune in swankier London music-halls. But in 1867, she's off to Paris for an engagement at the Moulin O'Or, determined to forget about Luke, even when she discovers she's pregnant. Yet it will be Lottie, attempting to win back Luke's heart, who precipitates the ""tragedy"" of the last pages. Aside from scattered examples of what seen: to be anachronisms, this is a convincing and competent excursion through the Victorian London underworld, the artists' society of Paris in the 1860's, and the bleak days of the siege of Paris.

Pub Date: May 2nd, 1988
Publisher: St. Martin's