Ready to discover another great book for this 2019? Take a look…
Death and the Harlot by Georgina Clarke
Genre: Historical Mystery
About The Book
‘It’s strange, the way fortune deals her hand.’
The year is 1759 and London is shrouded in a cloak of fear. With the constables at the mercy of highwaymen, it’s a perilous time to work the already dangerous streets of Soho.
Lizzie Hardwicke makes her living as a prostitute, somewhat protected from the fray as one of Mrs Farley’s girls. But then one of her wealthy customers is found brutally murdered…
and Lizzie was the last person to see him alive.
Constable William Davenport has no hard evidence against Lizzie but his presence and questions make life increasingly difficult. Desperate to be rid of him and prove her innocence Lizzie turns amateur detective, determined to find the true killer, whatever the cost.
Yet as the body count rises Lizzie realises that, just like her, everyone has a secret they will do almost anything to keep buried…
Lizzie Hardwicke job is not one of the most respected; she is a “whore”, yes after a turbulence past, she decided that it was much more worthier to be paid for her choice than simply being used. Saying this, you will see that Lizzie is a strong woman that doesn’t want to be used but that takes care of her loved ones and fights for them till the end.
When one of Lizzie’s client appears dead near her “work house” she will try to discover the truth before the murder affects her reputation. Lucky for her, the main detective of the case doesn’t think that she is guilty and they will work together to discover the truth.
This had been a very interesting case, because even if the victim didn’t have my likeness from the beginning, after discovering the truth, one can’t doubt that he has been murdered. Let’s say that there’s a long cue of possible killers…
If you are searching for a detectiveness story with an intelligent character and some curious friends this one is for you! The story finish with an interesting twist, so I can’t wait to read the next adventure!
Sounds interesting? Enjoy this extract! 😉
The noise coming from the parlour, when George Reed left, was extraordinary. Even for a house full of young women, it was loud, and it was a good thing we had finished for the night, as such a commotion would drive away all but the bravest of customers. Sydney, our ever-present doorman, tall, sleek and exotic, was perched on a stool in the hallway with his fingers rammed into his ears. He saw me and rolled his eyes; the disapproval of a sophisticated foreigner stretched over his dark face. I pushed open the door to the dimly lit room. Curiosity has long been my curse.
A young girl sat howling; arms flung across the table in front of her, a pile of fair curls on her head glimmering in the candle light. She was around fifteen or sixteen, possibly older. It was rather difficult to tell while she sobbed so extravagantly. Where had Ma found her?
Ma Farley was sitting across the other side of the table, arms folded under her enormous bosom. Lucy, elegant, poised, but blessed with a voice like a screech owl, was shouting something at Ma – I couldn’t hear what it was. Emily, whose hatchet face had earlier been painted to perfection but now was smeared from the night’s graft, was demanding answers. Ma was yelling back, ignoring the crying, and Polly was gently trying to
hug and shush the girl. No wonder Sydney had closed the parlour door behind me.
I tugged off a shoe and banged the heel on the table. The room fell into shocked silence, as they turned to gawp at me.
‘Thank you,’ I said, brandishing the shoe. ‘Now, who is our friend?’
The shoe, still in my hand, cracked down on the table again as they all began to speak at once.
‘Sydney thinks he’s gone deaf, you know. Ma, would you introduce me, please.’
Mrs Sarah Farley, Mother, or Ma to those who knew her well, stood up and straightened her soft cap, tucking a loose strand of greying hair behind an ear. Once, she had been a real beauty, but now, long past forty-five, her body was overused, overripe and overhanging. Her natural face had hardened with lines, so she filled in the cracks with powder and rouge. She pulled the young girl to her feet, not unkindly.
‘Miss Lizzie Hardwicke, this is Miss Amelia Blackwood.’
The girl was nicely mannered. As we curtseyed I saw that her face – underneath the blotched cheeks and red eyes – was extremely pretty.
‘Miss Blackwood,’ I nodded my greeting and raised an eyebrow at Ma as the girl resumed her place at the table. ‘A new companion?’
Amelia started bleating over Polly’s shoulder again, but more quietly this time. Ma sighed and sat down heavily.
‘It’s not what you think, Lizzie.’
I hoped not. Brothel keepers, bawds like Ma, had a reputation for forcing innocent young girls into a life of sin and they were rightly hated for their procuring. There were plenty of stories: unblemished lambs arriving in London from the country, flattered or tricked into bawdy houses, their virginity sold to the highest bidder. Mrs Farley was not above such devices when it came to supplementing her funds, I was sure of it, but it wasn’t her regular style. I waited for an explanation.
‘She’s been thrown out of her home,’ Ma said. ‘I found her at Charing Cross. Good job I was there; I’d just caught sight of her when Mrs Hamble and Mrs Bull came around the corner.’
Polly shivered. Miss Polly Young, our prettiest housemate, had golden hair and the sort of countenance that fell into effortless smiles, but her own career in town had been launched by Mrs Hamble, and the memory still made her lip tremble. She had been fourteen at the time.
‘What do you mean “she’s been thrown out”?’
‘Her father is an alderman. She fell in love with the local farrier’s son and he caught them kissing in the yard. Threw her out on the streets.’
‘That’s a bit harsh for a fumble,’ I said.
‘He’s got a reputation to maintain, apparently,’ said Lucy, arching an immaculate eyebrow, ‘although I’m quite sure I’ve never heard of him.’ Lucy knew many men of reputation, as she was often fond of telling us.
‘At least he gave her some money and allowed her to collect some clothes,’ said Ma.
‘Not all girls are so fortunate.’
Indeed, they are not.
‘It’s still a bit tough. She’s barely fifteen by the look of it.’
‘I’m seventeen.’ Amelia raised her head from the table. ‘And it wasn’t a fumble; Tommy and I are in love. We want to marry.’ She started to sob in great shaking coughs. ‘I’ll never see him again!’ Her head flopped down and Polly stroked her shoulders gently.
Eventually she stopped sobbing.
‘So, what are we going to do with her?’ Emily asked Ma. ‘Is she staying here?’
If she was going to stay, she was going to be working.
‘I think we can leave her for a little while,’ Mrs Farley was not devoid of sympathy, even if she was running a business. ‘Let’s give her some food and a soft bed and see whether she wants to join us. It’s quite clear that her father doesn’t want her at home.’
‘What about her beau? Thomas, is it?’ Polly asked.
‘Tommy,’ came a newly muffled sob.
‘Tommy. What about this Tommy? Do we know where he is? Does he really want to marry her?’ I asked.
‘He told me he loved me,’ her little voice quivered.
Lucy’s mouth puckered at such naivety.
‘Of course he loves you,’ Polly played with the girl’s curls. ‘But if he’s not here to marry you, then that’s not much use, is it?’
The girl looked at Polly. ‘Not much use …?’
Polly spoke gently. ‘If your father has disowned you then none of your friends or relatives will care for you. If Tommy is not going to marry you then you are alone.’ The words were beginning to register somewhere in Amelia’s mind as Polly went on. ‘You have no home, no good name and no one to protect you. London is a dangerous place for a girl on her own.’
She looked at each of us in turn, trying to make sense of what Polly had told her. We all nodded at what was obviously true. Whatever respectability she had once possessed was gone.
‘Can I stay here? Mrs Farley, you … you’ve all been very kind to me. Can I live with you?’
Eyes the colour of summer sky implored us. She was really very pretty; young and sweet, the way the rest of us were once. I could almost hear the coins jingling their way into Ma’s strong box.
‘I can work,’ she said. ‘I mean, I’m not very good, but I can do my best.’
She had no idea.
‘Do you know what we do here, Amelia?’ I asked.
‘Why, you’re milliners. That means you make hats.’ She glowed at her cleverness.
We made hats. That’s what the painted sign over the front door said. In a respectable street that was home to craftsmen and shopkeepers, we suggested that we too plied a decent trade. No one was fooled. Half of London’s prostitutes said they were milliners – well, those who operated indoors, at least. Lucy began to shake her head in disbelief.
‘You do make hats? That’s what milliners do, isn’t it?’ Amelia’s voice was high and anxious.
Poor sweet idiot. I laid a hand on her arm, catching Ma’s warning glance. ‘Well, even Lucy has been known to sew a feather onto straw once in a while.’
There was a silence.
Ma stood, took her by the shoulders and scooped her up into her welcoming bosom like a little child.
‘Come now, dear one, let’s go and find you a comfortable bed. There’s no need to make a decision about the future just yet.’
There was no decision to make, as far as I could see. If she was truly on her own, then all she could do was hope to make a living from her beauty, live decently, escape the pox and save enough money to survive into her old age.
Amelia hobbled out of the room clutching at Ma.
‘Poor little thing,’ said Polly.
‘I know,’ I said. ‘It’s easy to forget how awful it is when you start.’
We were quiet, each of us with our own thoughts. Eventually Polly spoke, her voice deliberately cheery.
‘But Lizzie, do tell us, how was your delightful companion this evening?’
‘That good, eh?’ She was laughing at me. ‘I’m so glad that you took him out of the tavern. I thought I was going to faint at his tedious conversation.’
Lucy began to look interested. She had not been with us earlier, owing to an engagement in a gentleman’s town house. Emily had been upstairs and busy all day from the hard look on her face.
‘Who was it? Lizzie, do tell.’
‘A cloth merchant from Norwich. He was fat and he grunted, and he struggled to get it up.’ It was an accurate summary.
‘Why on earth did you bring him home, though?’ asked Polly. ‘He was dreadful. He’s been in the White Horse for the last four nights – you’ve not had to put up with him until now. Yesterday he spent at least half an hour telling me about a particular sort of weave, I forget even what it was. And then there was the business with his handkerchief earlier.’
‘His handkerchief?’ Lucy’s dark eyes sparkled with amusement now.
‘Oh, he has an extremely large silk handkerchief with his initials embroidered in the corner,’ I said, ‘G. R. for George Reed. It’s nothing special, except that he needed us to know most particularly that G. R. stood for George Reed, and that this kerchief did not belong to His Majesty. He insisted on pulling it out of his coat pocket and waving it under our noses for inspection.’
‘You are teasing, Lizzie.’
‘No, I’m not. He really was bone-numbingly dull.’
‘I would have dropped him off with a streetwalker,’ said Polly.
‘Ah, but you didn’t see his waistcoat, then,’ I said quietly.
‘What about his waistcoat?’
‘I have rarely seen finer silk embroidery.’
‘What of it?’ Lucy was curious. She didn’t understand the importance of my comment, even though she’s normally such a grasping little minx.
‘I guessed that if he could afford such quality then he was obviously carrying a very heavy purse. I thought that I might relieve him of some guineas while he is in town on business.’ I grinned at them. ‘I was right about the purse.’
I relished my moment of triumph as I saw their faces.
‘Lizzie, I do wish I had your keen eye sometimes,’ said Polly.
‘I’m good,’ I admitted with a smile. ‘And for a few minutes grappling with that enormous belly I earned five guineas.’ I had received more, but the remainder was stowed away in my secret store: my retirement fund.
‘Five guineas,’ Lucy gave a whistle. ‘Not bad.’ She examined the jewels on her fingers. ‘Of course, not nearly as much as I earned this evening with Mr Gideon.’
No, it wasn’t as much as Lucy earned. Miss Lucy Allingham, raven-haired and always impeccably dressed, was the serious talent, after all – even if she could whistle like a fishwife. She was setting her sights on a man who might keep her as his mistress, in the hope of gaining her own apartment, an easy life and a steady stream of income. She had several suitable candidates in her thrall and was working on each of them in careful rotation. Mr Gideon was one of the poor creatures; a wealthy but somewhat hesitant Jewish gentleman.
Polly bristled slightly, which suggested that her own evening had not been profitable.
‘Good for you, Lucy,’ I said. ‘I hope he was as courteous as he was generous. But now, tell me, what has Ma got planned for tomorrow? Who is going to be here?’ I drummed the table with pretended excitement.
Polly dived in immediately. ‘Mr Stanford is coming. You know he adores you, Lizzie.’
‘Charles Stanford? How lovely.’ A young rake recently returned from the continent and keen to spend the sizable fortune he had lately inherited from his uncle. His lively wit and livelier body meant that his attentions were as pleasing as they were profitable. I had entertained him a few times.
‘I hope you share him,’ said Emily. ‘He’s more fun than most.’ Miss Emily Greville, the oldest of us, has to work harder these days to make the money that once came easily. She has grey in her unimaginatively-mousy hair. She covers it in powder to hide it, but we all know it’s there.
‘He’s bringing some new friends,’ said Polly, clapping her hands. ‘Two men, a Mr Herring and a Mr Winchcombe. They were in the White Horse yesterday, and I can report that they are both young and handsome.’
‘Thank goodness,’ I said. ‘Last time we had a masked ball it was full of elderly men.
Oh no!’ I dropped my head in my hands, groaning.
‘I’ve just remembered that I invited Mr Reed.’
‘George Reed? The man with the handkerchief and the wilting maypole?’ Lucy looked aghast. ‘Ma will kill you.’
I raised my hands in apology. ‘I had to get him off me. I wanted him out of my room.
Inviting him to the party seemed like a good distraction.’
‘As long as none of us ends up with him. Lucy’s right, Ma won’t be happy,’ said Polly. ‘We can offer him to one of Mrs Hardy’s girls. They’re joining us for the evening.’ We liked the Hardy girls. Mrs Hardy’s establishment, though vastly inferior to ours, was nearby and we sometimes welcomed them to share our parties.
‘Well for once I’m glad they are coming.’ Lucy usually thought that inviting the Hardy girls was an unnecessary act of charity. ‘They can take the weak and ancient and we can keep the young and the rich like Charles Stanford and his friends, Mr Herring and Mr Winchcombe.’
‘I think that we had better get some beauty sleep before tomorrow’s exertions,’ said
Polly, blowing out a candle. ‘The masks will only cover our faces for a few brief minutes, after all.’
‘And they do only cover our faces.’ Lucy winked as she got up.
‘Don’t be lewd,’ I said. ‘Ma will get uppity.’
‘She’s too preoccupied with her little sparrow to worry about my lack of refinement.’
True. Somewhere upstairs Amelia Blackwood might just be realising that a new career on the town was calling her. If she had worked that out, then the comfortable bed would offer little sleep.
About The Author
Georgina Clarke has a degree in theology and a PhD in history but has only recently started to combine her love of the past with a desire to write stories. Her Lizzie Hardwicke series is set in the mid-eighteenth century, an underrated and often neglected period, but one that is rich in possibility for a crime novelist.
She enjoys running along the banks of the River Severn and is sometimes to be found competing in half marathons. In quieter moments, she also enjoys dressmaking.
She lives in Worcester with her husband and son, and two extremely lively kittens.