Published By: Verve Books
Released On: 17/11/2022
Ruby Mills is ruthlessly ambitious, strikingly beautiful – and one of the Forty Thieves’ most talented members.
Harriet Littlemore writes the women’s section in a local newspaper. She’s from a ‘good’ London family and engaged to an up-and-coming Member of Parliament – but she wants a successful career of her own.
After witnessing Ruby fleeing the scene of a robbery, Harriet develops a fascination with the elusive young thief that extends beyond journalistic interest. As their personal aspirations bring them into closer contact than society’s rules usually allow, Ruby and Harriet’s stories become increasingly intertwined.
They’re magnetic and dynamic, fraught with envy and desire. It tells a compulsive, cinematic story about class, morality and the cost of being an independent woman in 1920s London.
I’ve read a number of books set in the 1920’s “jazz age” this year. Some have been good and others lacklustre. Luckily, this definitely falls into the first category. In fact, this is very good.
I received an early copy of this book from the Prima book editor Nina Pottell for which I am very grateful. I popped it on my proof shelf with the intention of quickly getting stuck in, but one thing after another and I ended up picking it up the night before publication day, but it was totally worth the wait. It’s exquisite.
The words just leap off the page, like water or silk, they flow so well, sweeping across the page, so graceful and sophisticated. The flow of the words is expertly done as well. That might sound like a weird turn of phrase, but hopefully you know what I mean. It’s never too slow or too fast, each character and storyline – whether it be the main plot or subplot – is given enough time with enough rhythm. It’s so perfectly created, I applaud it.
I wasn’t a fan of Ruby to begin with and probably for all the reasons she’s written. I felt she was a bit naive and a bit subservient, but she very quickly came into her own and used those attributes to her benefit. She can flick a switch like that (imagine someone clicking their fingers here) and play whatever character is required in the moment. All the women have their place in this book and they do it marvelously. For me, the male characters were surplus. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, like they’re badly written characters, not at all. I just felt this was definitely a woman’s story, and Ruby and Harriet’s were so all consuming I just didn’t have time for anyone else.
The characters are really great in this. There’s this fantastic character development for all, but mostly for Harriet and Ruby. It’s not too quick or unbelievable or forced in. It’s so subtle that you sometimes question if it is there, but by the end you can see this natural progression and it was lovely to see.
There is an edge of Peaky Blinders about it – which I have absolutely no problem with whatsoever seeing how much I loved that show – but with the women in the driving seat, which was refreshing.
Where I think a lot of books set in this era fail is they try to make them too much. Yes, in hindsight the 20’s was full of glamour and indulgence, and I think authors think that for modern readers to enjoy it, they have to ramp everything up. But a lot forget that this is post-war era, and it wasn’t all diamonds and champaigne. And I think this is where Georgina has got it perfect. It is exciting and glamorous, and yes there are diamonds and champagne, but she’s also perfected the mundane, the every-day: eating dinner, getting dressed, having sex, and I think that’s the selling point here. She’s not hidden how difficult it was to be a woman in this period, but nor has she overegged it. It’s not overwhelmingly fancy – to quote Goldilocks, “it’s just right”. She’s got this great balance between the destitution and pain of post-war 1920 and the fun and glamour of the 1920s jazz age.
I’m not sure exactly how long the plot covers but it’s not a very long period of time, a case of months rather than years. Some days cover several chapters; this could have made the plot slow, but it’s the opposite. With everything happening in such a short space of time, it’s exciting and fast-paced without being frenzied.
I love how all the stories and characters are linked and interwoven. You don’t always notice it when you’re reading it, but then someone or something will crop up later on and it reminds you about something that happened earlier on.
I like the straddle between tradition and modernity. There’s this understanding that women of this age wouldn’t go to work, would get married, would run a household, have children and will know their place. But there’s also this idea that women found a bit of freedom during the war, taking the men’s jobs whilst they fought, and then suddenly it’s all taken away from them. And whilst I’m not promoting stealing and crime and whatnot, I do appreciate how brazen the women are, I’m almost impressed. Women were told to be delicate creatures, to not rock the boat, but that’s exactly what Ruby and Harriet do in this and I admire them for that.
What I did find annoying – and this is a comment on me rather than the book – is that whilst I was thoroughly, thoroughly enjoying it, I was so desperate to see what happens at the end that I was having to stop myself from skipping pages. It’s like bait. I want to read it and take in every single word but I also need to know what happens in the end.
If I hadn’t received this as a prize, I possibly wouldn’t have chosen it for myself, considering I’ve had a love/hate relationships with books set in this period. But I’m so glad I got the chance to read it. It’s really well written, great storytelling, characterisation and it’s fun. It really is a great read.