Book Review: The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman

Book 1 in the “Sally Lockhart Mysteries” series.

This is the first in Philip Pullman’s series concerning a quiet, reserved young girl as she attempts to unravel the mystery of her father’s death. Set in Victorian England, this short novel is populated with a colourful cast of characters: cheeky cockney Jim, the sinister Mrs Holland, a noble photographer and his outspoken sister.

With their help, Sally gets sucked into and then attempts to uncover the mystery of a coded message she receives from her father and races against time to discover the secret of a priceless ruby and just why so many people have died because of it.

Sally is quite a fascinating character, far from being what is now a stereotype of a surprisingly emancipated woman in a time before suffrage, is practical, strong yet vulnerable at the same time. No big social issues concerning Victoria society are covered here and this makes a refreshing change amongst the wealth of historical fiction and relies on telling a good story that keeps you guessing until the end.

Although aimed at young adults, this will also appeal to fans of Victorian mystery writers such as Arthur Conan Doyle.

A bit short at a shade over 200 pages but a cracking lazy weekend read.

There was a TV adaptation a few years back starring Billie Piper as Sally, Matt Smith as Jim and Julie Walters as Mrs Holland.

3.5/5

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