I came across this book when its author, Susan Grossey, approached me out of the blue, having spotted on Amazon that I’d enjoyed reviewing similar books in her genre: historical mystery. I was very impressed with the cover and presentation of the book, and its initial premise, and the fact that she was happy to send me a beautiful print copy to review, so here we are…
Not Whodunnit but Whydunnit
This was an intriguing, beautifully written and presented book that perfectly captures the tone of the era in which it is set: 1824. The narrative, in the voice of a very likeable police constable Samuel Plank (a great solid and dependable name!), kicks off with the arrest of a senior banker, Henry Fauntleroy, who soon admits forgery, and the rest of the novel is largely spent investigating why he should have risked all to commit his crime. Although it seems like a straightforward case, there are twists that I didn’t see coming that make this a very satisfying read.
Insight into Old Banking Technology
It is also a fascinating portrait of a critical period of development in the banking industry, when the new “technology” of the banking industry is paper documents rather than money, viewed with suspicion by many. Shockingly, the punishment for forgery is death, which adds further weight to the reader’s need to know just why on earth Fauntleroy would commit it and so readily admit his guilt.
Plus Ça Change…
The story reads as a compelling analagy to the age of 21st century banking and attitude to “fat cat” bankers, including the response of the popular press and the general public. Though we may not see crowds of thousands assembling in public to witness bankers’ executions any more, the clamour of the public to read about any banker’s fall from grace is close to that scenario in spirit.
The author is apparently a money-laundering expert in her day job – expert at preventing it, that is – which accounts for her ease and fascination with financial and legal detail. Sometimes the explanations in the book went a little over my head (or maybe that’s just a reflection of my natural ostrich tendencies when it comes to financial considerations), but this still make for a very interesting read.
Full of Surprises
I loved the sense of place, with some surprising revelations about jail and courthouse conditions and operations, and an interesting change of setting at one point in the book, which I won’t reveal her for fear of spoiling the plot. There was great attention to detail woven skilfully into the writing, so I felt I learned a lot about the era by osmosis, rather than having it thrust upon me.
I also admired the cover and the interior design, which helped create the right atmosphere for the period narrative.
I really like Constable Plank and his amiable, supportive wife – Dr Watson to his Holmes – and I’d love to read more books about them.
All in all, a remarkable debut novel. While I won’t be reading Ms Grossey’s non-fiction books about money-laundering, I’ll definitely be looking out for more of her fiction, and I’ll be recommending this book to members of the local Historical Novel Society book group that I attend.
For more information, visit Susan Grossey’s website: