Elijah's Mermaid by Essie Fox

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Elijah's Mermaid by Essie Fox

Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A Victorian thriller that will hold you tightly till the last moment as the twists, surprises and excitement build and keep coming.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: November 2012
Publisher: Orion
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1409123347

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Author Augustus Lamb receives a shocking letter from his publisher and old friend Frederick Hall. Hall has discovered Lamb's small grandchildren, Lily and Elijah, in a London home for foundlings. Lamb's son Gabriel had died after a socially unacceptable liaison with beautiful Italian Isabella who subsequently disappeared. Delighted beyond words at Hall's discovery, Augustus adopts the twins, raising them in his Herefordshire country home, Kingsland House. There the children grow, happy and loved.

Meanwhile in London another foundling is growing up, this time in the House of Mermaids (an oddly named brothel). This child, Pearl, was found in the Thames after her mother's suicide. Despite her surroundings she's just as happy despite a healthy fear of the creepy 'procurer' Tip Thomas. She is, of course, unaware of the future that the mysteriously veiled madam/mother figure, Mrs Hibbert has planned for her.

Eventually the lives of Pearl, Lily and Elijah will intersect revealing a world of darkness and deceit; a revelation accompanied by bloodshed.

This is Essie Fox's second novel; her debut, The Somnambulist being a Victorian gothic coming of age story. Elijah's Mermaid is in the same era but this time concentrates on the veneer of respectability and the deviousness that lays hidden beneath. In fact hardly anyone is who they first appear and our heroes live under serious misapprehensions… but I'm getting ahead of myself…

Essie Fox ensures we're swept along on a tide of adventure as each chapter, creeping towards the darkly delicious, is subtly foreshadowed by literary excerpts. We experience the awful spectacle of freak shows, the conflict underlying the beauty of Victorian art, the world of prostitution, outlandishly dangerous medical treatment and, most horrific of all, the fear, frustration and doom surrounding mental asylum patients. It's packed but the story remains uncluttered, the themes and scenes flowing naturally. Even the language flows from the situations; poetic at times, gritty when it needs to be (there are a few 'f' words) always enticing us further as the twists build to a ripping race against time and hurtle through to the end.

As in the case of Russell James' The Exhibitionists real figures are mixed with the fictional. Here, though, contemporary artists like Millais and novellists such as Charles Kingsley are mentioned in passing rather than lived with. The novel focuses on the three children, innocents treated as pawns by the unscrupulous; a situation that continues as they reach young adulthood.

We have a selection of Dickensian grotesques for good measure: Mrs Hibbert (pronounced 'eebaair' in a Bucket/Bouquet way) is a madam with a heart trying to do the best for her girls while having to bow to commercial pressure and the influence of Tip, the evil pimp. So evil does he seem, in fact, that my brain rejected book's description in favour of that of the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Dr Cruickshank is another shiver down the spine, the tapping of his stick becoming like the sinister cello intro from Jaws. Are any of the characters stereotypical? They may be, but, as the plot thickens and the excitement builds, the author doesn't give us time to consider that so it's immaterial.

There are also some wonderful snippets of historic information. (I know – me and my factoids again.) We're left in no doubt of what it feels like when married women were chattels, their free will effectively removed as the wedding ring went on. Also we can ponder the complications of passion when condoms were actual pig bladders tied on by red ribbons. (Mmmm, attractive!) Also I would heartily recommend the author's notes at the back, detailing the historical and literary background whilst expanding on the metaphor taken from Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid.

Elijah's Mermaid is such a good book that you will want to turn all distractions out of the house before you start it, but, after doing that make sure that you turn all the house lights on. Indeed, just when you thought it was safe to go back into the hallway…

If you've enjoyed this and would like to read more of the Victorian world of art whilst living the adventures of foundlings, try The Exhibitionists by Russell James.

Buy Elijah's Mermaid by Essie Fox at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Elijah's Mermaid by Essie Fox at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Elijah's Mermaid by Essie Fox at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Elijah's Mermaid by Essie Fox at Amazon.com.


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