The Silversmith’s Wife
by Sophia Tobin
Rating: 2 1/2 stars
‘The year is 1792 and it’s winter in Berkeley Square. As the city sleeps, the night-watchman keeps a cautious eye over the streets and another eye in the back doors of the great and the good. Then one fateful night he comes across the body of Pierre Renard, the eponymous silversmith, lying dead, his throat cut and his valuables missing. It could be common theft, committed by one of the many villains who stalk the square, but as news of the murder spreads, it soon becomes clear that Renard had more than a few enemies, all with their own secrets to hide. At the centre of this web is Mary, the silversmith’s wife. Ostensibly theirs was an excellent pairing, but behind closed doors their relationship was a dark and at times sadistic one and when we meet her, Mary is withdrawn and weak, haunted by her past and near-mad with guilt. Will she attain the redemption she seeks and what, exactly, does she need redemption for…? Rich, intricate and beautifully told, this is a story of murder, love and buried secrets…’
I’m beginning to remember why I don’t read as much Crime/Mystery as I watch, I find it very hard to separate the good crime novels from the bad at first glance. Does anyone have any mystery/crime recommendations to help me avoid this?
I was quite looking forward to this one. The blurb looked interesting, it had a lovely cover and the writing style at the beginning was very promising. In fact, that was my main highlight of the book. The blurb describes the novel as being ‘beautifully told’ and this is one thing I agree with – the prose style is wonderful and demonstrates a clear love for language. I also really enjoyed the sections describing the silversmiths’ world – it is clearly a well researched book that is rich in period detail.
All these things should add up to a good book, so imagine my disappointment when – for the next few chapters – I got bounced about from POV to POV without ever really getting to see any of the action. When things finally started to pull together the sudden narrowing of the world – and everyone’s improbable links with Mallory of all people – began to feel more like Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon than any sort of mysterious denouement.
There is, of course, another problem in having the murdered character being so unlikeable that you’re glad he’s dead. There’s little impetus for us to care who killed him and as a result the story falls flat. Perhaps if more had been made of Mary fears that she had murdered Pierre unknowingly, then I would have been eager to see it disproved. However I have to say that the killer, when they are ultimately revealed, is actually a good twist and I was glad to find some purpose in Pierre’s diary extracts. Until then they had felt like another unnecessary POV. So I suppose the solution is actually interesting and what I really object to is the manner in which we get there.
The book jacket also touts this as a page turner – something it most definitely is not. The writing style is lovely, yes, but it certainly doesn’t lend itself to this label. As to the actual mystery itself, it proves far from gripping and far from the central point of the story. The plot moved so slowly and in such a meandering manner that it lacked any forward momentum. It feels like Tobin has tried to cram too many stories into too small a space which was a shame as individually some of the strands would have proved intriguing. The result of this is that the plot’s spread too thinly and the characterisations are lacking. Nobody really feels developed – apart from perhaps Johanna and Harriet – and some people just feel altogether unnecessary (ahem Digby ahem).
The time skips resulting from so many differing POV’s were far from helpful in this and resulted in a lot of it being told in stilted summarised flashbacks rather than shown. As already hinted, I could have done without Digby altogether. I understood the need for someone to be investigating the events but his sections were by far the most boring. I kept reading through them though as I was hoping he’d make some progress, but he never really seemed to until right at the end. He could easily have just been the POV for the prologue and then have another character fulfil his purpose, indeed in many aspects other characters do – and are better at it!
All in all I found this to be something of an odd fish. Well written whilst simultaneously being badly constructed. A lot of unrealised potential.