Lizzie Hardwicke is back in Georgina Clarke’s second historical fiction novel The Corpse Played Dead. Lizzie is a prostitute, from a privileged past, now fortunate to earn a living from the wealthy customers that frequent the exclusive brothel she’s employed in. Since the first book, Lizzie has earned notoriety having been instrumental in solving a murder. Mr Fielding, the magistrate, and his men, particularly William Davenport, recognise her resourcefulness and ability to probe and observe society, from those unfortunates living on the street to wealthy households that operate with maids and servants. While her position is unique it is also perilous, as powerful and heartless men tend to cross paths with her and she suffers a few rough encounters.
Lizzie is the lens into which we observe London in 1759, narrated in her voice, she describes the sights and smells and the dangerous streets in various parts of the city. This story is based in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, not far from the Bow Street magistrate’s offices. There have been a number of suspicious dangerous incidents in the theatre run by Mr David Garrick, and as a friend of Mr Fielding, has requested his services to investigate the damaging sabotage events. Fielding and Davenport approach Lizzie and her Madam to seek her help to go undercover as a seamstress at the theatre and help solve the crimes. The cast of characters (no pun intended) offers us a wonderful variety of personalities that fit the time period perfectly and paint the social standing and privileges of those in power and those subservient to that authority. The stakes get much higher when Lord Hawbridge, an arrogant man, a brutal man, a narcissistic man, is found hung upside-down over the theatre stage, early one morning, with his hands and ankles bound and his throat slit. The swirling machinations have many possibilities including the saboteurs, other theatre personnel, other patrons, family or random mistake.
Georgina Clarke has shown considerable focus in maintaining a steady momentum of the plot and the natural developments in solving the crimes. The throbbing atmosphere and landscape of historical London are superbly depicted and vividly brought to life, as Lizzie walks the streets, meets people of all different backgrounds, and interacts in a language that is authentic and revealing. The revelations are believable and natural keeping me intrigued throughout.
What stands out in these novels is the character of Lizzie, she is such a rounded fascinating person and is so well drawn that she feels completely real. Her decisions and exploits aren’t grandstanding or always successful but she has her own mind and deals with challenges in an ambitious manner. I’m sure Georgina Clarke struggles to keep control of her in her writing as she is such a clever, feisty and adventurous woman.
I would highly recommend reading this book and I’d like to thank Canelo and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC copy in return for an honest review.