On a cold wintery night in 1792 a night watchman was walking the streets of central London. He was employed by the wealthy to watch over their homes, and to protect them from the dangers – some real and some imaginary – that the dark night held. As I followed him, as I was shown the things that he saw, I knew that he was going to find something, and he did.
He found a silversmith – Pierre Renard – lying dead, because his throat had been cut from ear to ear.
It was a dramatic and atmospheric opening, and the story had great promise.
Pierre was a successful businessman, but he was a cruel and bitter man, who treated the wife he had married for the wrong reasons horribly, who gave no credit to the other silversmiths who worked for him, and who desperately wanted something he could not have. His story – the story of what had made him the man that was – was told in diary entries at the start of each chapter. And it was intriguing.
That was the story of the past. The story of the present moved between a number of lives that had been touched by the silversmith.
- First and foremost was the silversmith’s wife, who had been so unhappy in her marriage
- There was her sister, who wasn’t as patient with her as might have been expected.
- Her old flame, another silversmith who had worked for her husband sometimes, had just returned to London.
- A newlywed couple, unhappy together and clearly not married for the right reasons, had commissioned the silversmith.
- The lady’s maid watched over her lady, and she kept a close eye over events outside the house too.
- The night watchman continued to watch – for his own reasons and because one of his employers had a special interest.
- Only the doctor, who had been the silversmith’s closest friend, defended him and kept faith with him.
They were all very well drawn and they had real depth. I believed in these people, and I cared about what happened to them. I loved the way the story linked them, the way it became clear that they all had secrets, and the way that those secrets were eventually revealed.
It was lovely spending time with them, being able to step into a world that was so very well evoked, but I’m afraid there were times when my attention wandered, and I was aware that the central mystery, the question of who killed the silversmith wasn’t really being addressed.
The story lacked impetus, and when the truth was revealed it didn’t really come out of what had happened before.
And that was maddening because, though I found much to love, I had to put the book down thinking that it could have been so much better.