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VINE VOICEon 13 October 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Written in a diction so authentic I could believe the author has a time machine in the garden shed in which she traverses history to pick up the slang, innuendo and argot of the Victorian streets of Whitechapel and beyond.

The book deals with the intertwining stories of one Corney Sage, comic and clog dancer who has graced the stages of many a disreputable music hall and the somewhat mysterious Miss Phyllida Marweather, who is many things besides but I am not here to spoil your pleasure of reading this brilliant and bursting piece of outrageous fantasy fiction.

Ann Featherstone has adopted the great traditions of story telling and quoted the same within her text. She has Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe (and even Virginia Woolf) sitting at her shoulder as she writes as well as such contemporaries as Anne Perry and Sarah Waters.

Her tale is a deeply textured tapestry of intrigue, double-dealing `orrible murders; a picaresque confection that should satisfy any reader not only of the genre but also for the jaded reader who might be looking for something a little different, and different this book definitely is, I have not read anything quite like it before.

Ms Featherstone is a researcher (see her other books, essays and articles) and has woven that research into a thumping good read but unlike other writer of historical crime she does not let the research show, the narrative flows in an uninterrupted way that the likes of Dan Brown could only dream of.

I give the book 5 stars without any reservation as it ticks every single box as a great yarn, a captivating mystery, an historical insight and an unputdownable read
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VINE VOICEon 29 November 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Corney Sage is a small-time performer in the music halls and circuses of Victorian London. When his friend, a prostitute named Bessie Spooner, is brutally beaten to death in the yard behind their workplace, Corney, along with another prostitute, Lucy, are the only witnesses. The shadowy figure of the killer haunts them as they flee from town to town, trying to escape him. But the killer's identity is more surprising than anyone could have realised...

A colourful tale of murder and circus folk in Victorian England, this is certainly an authentic book. The author is clearly an authority on the subject, fleshing out the story with minor details that makes the world of Corney Sage come alive. His voice seems note-perfect, a sympathetic protagonist. The low-life landlords, show folk and prostitutes he mixes with are portrayed vividly, down to their blackened teeth and poor spelling, whilst the upper-class characters seem to inhabit a different world. Class is an important issue in respect to the identity of the killer, but I won't dwell on it here.

The viewpoint of the story alternates between characters, and the identity of the killer is quickly revealed to the reader. We learn the killer's motivations, and see how they plan to get away with their crimes.

But I have to admit that I didn't find this book very interesting. It took me a couple of weeks to read, which is very slow for me, and was never that keen to pick it up and find out what happened next, which isn't great for a crime novel. As a piece of historical fiction it works really well, although I found the ending a bit blurry and disappointing, told from Corney's viewpoint as he battles with illness, the story takes on a hallucinatory air that gave everything an uncertain feeling. More of a period piece than a riveting crime read.
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VINE VOICEon 13 December 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As you read this you are taken on a tour of Victorian music halls, and the haunts of those who performed in them, and the major strength of the book is the authenticity of this tour. Peopled by procession of grotesque characters, almost everyone of whom seems to look out only for themselves, this is a story which is almost relentlessly dark. Our hero, Corney Sage, is the exception though, as he does at least demonstrate some fellow feeling, and he is the perfect counterpoint to the shadows that surround him.

The language of the book is that of the era, which took a little getting used too, but once we're into the story, it becomes natural. The plot involves many unexpected twists and turns, each adding to tension of the central plot device, but I did feel that at times the pace was a little lacking. I also felt that some scenes were included merely to allow the author to demonstrate her knowledge, adding little to the story. More positively, the villain is a satisfyingly complex mixture (literally - read the book and you'll know what I mean), who hunts down the 2 people able to link crime and perpetrator and the cat and mouse element provides the best parts of the book.

There's lots to recommend about this then, an involving storyline, interesting characters, authentic period detail and healthy doses of humour (mostly of the black variety) poignancy, pathos and passion. Reading like an updated "penny dreadful", this will thrill lovers of Victoriana.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
...even if it does seem to take a while to really hit its stride. Featherstone's novel is part of that subgenre of Victorian pastiche, taking a more modern approach to the kind of penny dreadful plots that were commonplace in the era and telling its tale of two people caught up in the aftermath of a murder through the mimicked voices of a music hall comedian and a murderer. It takes a while for the voice of performer Corney Sage to quite convince - at first he's written in an addressing the audience to set up the joke style (it's only three paragraphs in before he's urging the reader to 'stop me') which seems more affected than effective. By contrast, she seems more comfortable with the murderer's voice from the start: the killer may have most of the hallmarks of the criminal with the superior intellect that are almost a given for the genre, but he seems far less like an imitation than Corney.

But it's the tale that matters, and while at times the novel might sprawl somewhat as Corney's attempts to evade the killer lead him through the various playgrounds of rich and poor alike, it still manages to engage even if it rarely surprises. There's no real mystery to the novel, but it does carry you along through its occasionally vividly recreated world with just enough curiosity about the outcome for that not to be a problem.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is rare indeed. Impeccable research captures the sounds, sights, smells, and murder of nineteenth-century London. The product of impeccable research the novel is narrated in the first person through two characters, one the murderer.

Although the reader, due to the nature of the narrative, learns of the `killer' early on, this really doesn't spoil the fast pace and page-turning nature of this book. Such is the care to detail, and the writing skill of the author, the book remains compelling.

I have no reservations in recommending this book to all who like thrillers, quality writing, or historical novels.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Corney and Lucy, two music-hall performers, witness the murder of friend Bessie, and are forced to go on the run after being spotted by her killer.

This tale is authentically written, with reference to the seedier parts of Victorian London, and use of traditional vernacular. Sinister, quiet, dark streets and alleys contrast with bawdy and colourful theatre interiors. Characters are mildly stereotyped (lovable rogues, heart-of-gold working girls, aloof toffs) but still very believable.

The murderer is identified quite early on, and some of the plot 'twists' are fairly obvious. Also, there are a number of somewhat unlikely coincidences as hunter and prey chance upon each other at various far-flung locations - but this is still a pretty enjoyable read, and rather out of the ordinary, amidst today's ten-a-penny formulaec chick lit novels and painfully forensic crime thrillers.

Dickens meets Jack the Ripper meets League of Gentleman! Recommended.
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on 15 October 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have always been fascinated by "real" history. I care not a great deal for the shenanigans of past nobility and royalty. I am more interested in what ordinary people did, the music they listened to and the ways they entertained themselves. So I found this book to be a delight. It breathes history in a fashion just not taught in schools, which is a real shame.

That is not to say that it should be considered a history book. Far from it, it is a gritty murder story first and foremost. However, the author obviously cares enough about the subject to wrap it up in an historical package which is both informing but more importanly entertaining. I don't want to say any more on that for fear that I may put people off. Bottom line, this book is a fun read!

This book isn't a whodunnit, as whodunnit narrates a large part of the book. More of a howdunnit, or even a wheredunnit, if such a thing exists.

Very good first effort indeed.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Ann Featherstone, who has written non-fiction before now gives us her first novel, and what a corker it is. Set in London and the Midlands of the nineteenth century the sqaulor and poverty of the time is really bought to life, as well as the common entertainments.

Young Bessie Spooner is viciously killed in the Whitechapel area after attempting a bit of blackmail, and her colleagues Lucy who witnesses it and comedian Cornelius 'Corney' Sage who may know a bit too much are scared. Taking to their heels the pair disappear in different directions taking any secret of the murderer with them, but can they survive and evade the grips of the murderer?

Told by Corney Sage and the murderer this is a tale that will throw you back into Victorian England amongst the more seedier side of life, and more than keep you entertained. If you are hoping for a mystery though you will be disapponted, because it is obvious who the killer is and why they had to murder Bessie even before it is even narrated in this novel (which it is before the first hundred pages have been read). This is a tale of what secrets and vices people have, and how people can mask themselves; as in the theatre, what you see isn't always what you should see.

With cons, common low entertainment, vicious murders and the looming prescence of sapphic love this is a novel that harks back to the days of the sensation novel and will be loved by those who like the Sarah Waters Victorian books.
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VINE VOICEon 10 November 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is not my usual book, but something drew me to it and I'm glad it did because it was a wonderful read.

Set in Victorian times, it features Corney Sage, a comedian who performs in stage shows. The book opens with Corney and a fellow performer (Lucy) witnessing a murder. Both Lucy and Corney go their separate ways to try and escape but they cannot as the murderer persistently comes back to haunt them with consequences. We learn very early on who is the murderer so it is far from a murder mystery, but what a tangled web the cunning murderer weaves.

The book is narrated in the chapters by both Corney and the murderer. It is told in authentic Victorian style and slang. It was very descriptive of the locations and what went on in those days.

I felt very drawn into the story and could imagine everything that was described and picture the characters very well. At the beginning it took a bit of getting into but by the end I found it difficult to put down. It was an engrossing read and I am recommending this to my friends.
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on 8 November 2010
I was worried when reading this book that it would come across stilted as some academic writing does. However, although Ann has published academic research she obviously has an aptitude for fiction. The book flowed throughout, and the use of different characters as narrators helped very much to keep the reader on their toes.

Although not a 'mystery' as such, the book gripped me and there was still the wondering how it would end. The use of contemporary language was perfect, neither overdone (which might have led to it seeming a little contrived) nor lacking. It showed Ann's research had truly been put to use when she wrote this. She captured the Victorian world of the Circus and the working class gaffs that you could picture them in every detail.

I very much enjoyed the book, especially where set in East London- as it is where I grew up. I would recommend to all.
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