Laura's Reviews > The Dark Lantern

The Dark Lantern by Gerri Brightwell
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's review
Jan 12, 2009

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Read in December, 2008

This little treat of Victorian Noir follows an orphan who takes a position in London as housemaid in the Bentley home, where the “below stairs” folk seem to be as treacherous and secretive as those above stairs. The mistress of the house is dying and her son and daughter-in-law have come to visit, but the daughter-in-law refuses to leave the house because of some unnamed danger lurking in the foggy streets, and the servants are slyly running amok. Meanwhile the son is busy dabbling in anthropometry (the science of identifying criminals by body measurements), which puts him in contact with all sorts of shady characters, but at least he seems to be a decent enough person. I was interested to learn a bit about anthropometry, which at that time rivaled finger-printing as the dominant system of identification — who knew?? However, the subplot of Victorian criminology is no match for the domestic espionage that goes on, especially once a woman turns up claiming to be the widow of the elder brother, and our young housemaid is enlisted to spy on her. Meanwhile, someone is spying on the Bentley house, but why? Although it's suffused with atmosphere, the book is only mildly thrilling — I wasn’t sure who to trust even right up to the end, but I’ve read more gripping novels. Where it shines is in its very clear and very grim picture of life in the servant class, where a tyrannical housekeeper or mistress could make a servant’s existence even more unbearable than it already was.
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02/27/2016 marked as: read

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