‘Death and the Harlot’ and ‘The Corpse Played Dead’ by Georgina Clarke and the enjoyment of a good story.

I love stories, always have. I remember though for a time after university I couldn’t read for pleasure; we had, what felt like to me, been brainwashed into forcing a perspective onto everything we read, a Marxist interpretation, a feminist, a post-structuralist, a deconstructionist, a psychoanalytical… and it was so tiring! Of course, there’s a place for interpretation and analysis but my brain struggled to switch off when I sat down to read. A few years after leaving Uni, I began to read to just enjoy being told a story again, as a way of leaving ‘reality’ for a while; it was once again my haven, my escape, and I found the love again for stories and the uncomplicated art of just… well just storytelling. It’s also relevant to add at this point the criticism from some people when I read young adult fiction (I am in my forties) – and I basically say to that “so what?”, if it’s a good story, I’m in!

So back to my point and the title of this blog: ‘Death and the Harlot’ and ‘The Corpse Played Dead’ and the enjoyment of a good story.

What Georgina Clarke is good at is being a storyteller and at the heart of that is creating an engaging character and giving them a believable world to live in. Clarke’s creation is Lizzie Hardwicke and she’s a prostitute. Yep… had me intrigued. Then, I was really lucky and won a copy of the book on Twitter in a publisher giveaway on Maundy Thursday. Thank you so much Canelo, I did a happy dance that day!

I love Lizzie Hardwicke and I love Clarke’s 18th century London. I loved sitting down and escaping for a few hours into these stories. Lots of love! I’ve always enjoyed historical novels set in 18th & 19th century England, but this one differs as it centres on a prostitute who is really good at solving crimes. The series also starts off with a cracking narrative hook:

‘There are a few sights more ridiculous than a fat old man naked from the waist down.’

A good writer takes me into the story with ease, and I emerge a few hours later having ‘travelled’ without really realising I am sitting in a chair, or lying on my bed. Both of Clarke’s books had this effect.

‘Death and the Harlot’ is the first in the series. Lizzie Hardwicke is our undeniably controversial heroine and I thinks she’s fabulous. A woman who has endured and continues to endure awful times but has the strength to make the most of what she needs to become and to take control of it the best she can. I love this depth to the character and the more you get to know Lizzie the more likeable and rounded she becomes, she’s definitely a feminist hero despite her profession and perhaps also because of it.

So, the story is told through Lizzie’s eyes, she’s engaging, warm, hilarious, intelligent and mentally incredibly strong. It’s not long into the book when one of her ‘customers’ is found murdered and she was the last person to have been with him. This brings her to the attention of Constable William Davenport who becomes an important figure in the series. Will Davenport is a great mix with Lizzie and soon they are both trying to puzzle who the killer is; this draws them together throughout the book and eventually into a working relationship, and finally a personal understanding. These two are great!

Clarke’s London of 1759 is well researched and executed; there’s no holding back of the unsavoury aspects of life and its hardships during this period. From life inside Ma Farley’s upmarket brothel, the seedy back streets and taverns to the churchyards and Mr Fielding’s Bow Street, the writing is immersive and imaginative. In case you are unaware, Sir John Fielding was a real person who founded the ‘Bow Street Runners’ who began England’s police force. Obviously, there’s dramatic licence but it’s great to see a wealth of historical research as the backbone to the storytelling, and it certainly pays off.

The second book in the series I sadly had to read on my kindle after being granted a review copy from Netgalley. I say ‘sadly’ only because I’ve been finding that I’m not enjoying kindle reading, and this has been reflecting negatively on the books I read. I also love taking pictures of books (don’t judge me, I could be a train spotter – lol). I find my eyes cross a lot when reading on a kindle (you can laugh at the image) anyone else find that? I see double for ages after? Not great if I have to drive. Also, nothing beats holding an actual book in your hands and seeing it on your bookshelf. I am a book sniffer too! Anyway, enough confessions and digression, back to the point of this blog post…

‘The Corpse Played Dead’ called to me as it’s predominantly played out in the theatre. It was great to read this straight after ‘Death and the Harlot’, I didn’t need to recap and was very happy to join Lizzie and Will straight away on another case. This book is centred on a gruesome murder in London’s Drury Lane theatre run by Mr Garrick. I trained and worked in Repertory theatre for many years so loved the depiction of backstage life as Lizzie finds herself undercover helping Fielding and Davenport once more. There’s a terrific gathering of characters under suspicion, and the presentation of life backstage during this period is well depicted. As with the first book, I found it fairly easy to guess the culprit, but it by no means stops the enjoyment of reading these books. These are character driven books and the second book allows us more information about Lizzie and her situation and I love the development of her ‘relationship’ with Davenport ~ really looking forward to seeing where else it leads as the series progresses. I do hope there are many more Lizzie Hardwicke adventures to come! I’ll certainly be ready and waiting to read them.

Entertaining, witty historical crime reads for people seeking well-plotted stories with creatively put together characters, some emotional moments, dangerous criminals and an investigating prostitute at the helm! All in all, good storytelling! Loved them and finally huge thanks to Georgina Clarke for creating these stories. Keep writing!

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