The framework of Hammer (or Grace Hammer if you are in the USA) is quite straightforward. Somebody has stolen something from somebody else. Now that somebody else wants their property back, and wants revenge. Yes, it’s a simple story, but the way is dressed, in rich, eye-catching, period attire, adds much interest.
And clothes and appearances are something Sara Stockridge knows much about. She is a model, turned muse to Vivienne Westwood, turned actress, turned writer. An interesting CV, but that what wasn’t what sent me searching for her first novel – it was hearing her on the radio speaking with so much enthusiasm about her choice of period, her subject matter and her delight at becoming a published author.
Grace Hammer is the thief. She wasn’t always – she was a servant in a country house, but when she was falsely accused and dismissed she took the mistress’s jewellery away with her. She went to London, and now she lives in Whitechapel with her three children. They survive – not uncomfortably – by picking the pockets of members of the gentry who pass through the Whitechapel streets.
That brings to mind Fagin’s gang, and certainly it is the same London underworld that Dickens saw first hand that Sara Stockbridge now recreates. And she does it well: the streets, the taverns, the homes, the class divide, the poverty, the perils, all vividly evoked.
Horatio Blunt, the man from Ruby whom she lifted a ruby necklace, cuts a menacing figure from his first appearance, sitting at home dreaming of recovering his jewels and slitting Grace’s throat. He is soon on her trail and a game of cat and mouse ensues. Eventally, of course, there is a resolution and a price is extracted – but not the price expected.
The period may be Victorian, but the style isn’t. It’s clear and straightforward with a strong forward impetus and just enough detail to paint the picture. And while the feel is definitely sinister it isn’t too chilling. I never quite believed that something drealful would happen to Grace and her children.
What you do have though is an entertaining diversion for lovers of the period and an accessible entry point for those less familiar with Victoriana.
And an very promising new author – the book jacket promises a London ghost story next, and I will certainly be looking out for it.