The death of her uncle will leave eighteen-year-old Josephine King an orphan, an heiress and the owner of a priceless diamond, The Eye of the Khan. For Lilith Marks, a chance finally arises to end her life as a highly paid prostitute and to prove herself as a serious businesswoman.
Set against the backdrop of the great gas-lit city, the two women are drawn together in their quest to discover just who killed the man they both loved.
Diamonds & Dust is a page-whizzing narrative, with an intricate and absorbing plot that entices you through the teeming streets of Victorian London. If Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle all washed up on a desert island, they might have come up with something like this.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reading DIAMONDS & DUST was like spending the evening with a crowd of my favorite 19th century authors. Hedges's heroine, Josephine King, reminds me of those other orphans rescued by wealthy uncles--Jane Eyre and Mary Lennox (The Secret Garden). Only Jo King has coppery red curls and a biting intelligence that serves her well when her beloved uncle is murdered in a most unusual and grisly manner. Not content to be coddled by police (and society matrons eager to land an heiress for a daughter-in-law), Jo sets out to find her uncle's killers and bring them to justice. The author provides Jo with a cast of supporting characters worthy of a Dickens novel...complex, memorable human beings from every layer of this tightly stratified society. Oi is a crossing sweeper, a child with and old soul and a smart mouth. He's also already half dead of poverty and starvation. Lilith Marks is a prostitute and a Jew, strikes against her that cannot be erased by the wealth she's acquired thanks to the loving care of Jo's uncle. Isabella Thorpe, a troubled young woman who wants more than the suffocating domestic and social whirl her superficial Mamma has planned for her, is by turns repugnant and compelling, a weak and trifling individual who nevertheless yearns for a life that means something. What I love about Hedges's characters is that they are so human. The good ones aren't always nice. And the rotten ones have hopes, dreams, fears. I wasn't sure at first about the author's choice to use the present tense. I've often found that this can work against a novel's pacing, rushing the reader through the plot without allowing them time to savor the journey. This was not the case in DIAMONDS & DUST. Considering the amount of historical detail Hedges provides, present tense actually offsets the heaviness that can come with extended passages of exposition. Detail versus Story is a delicate balance for all writers, but especially in works of historical fiction. Hedges deals with this beautifully. The author made another unusual decision--she doesn't use traditional chapters. Instead, the action is a single, continuous narrative separated into scenes. This threw me at first, because I was expecting to get to the end of chapter one and it never arrived, but I fell into line soon enough and enjoyed the forward propulsion as one scene unfolded into the next. Again, the historical detail helped by providing a braking mechanism for my brain to grab onto. I don't know if I would have liked this lack of chapter breaks as much in, say, a contemporary romance. Speaking of romance, DIAMONDS & DUST is NOT one. There is affection and friendship and, in the end, the genuine love that develops among forsaken human beings who meet kindred spirits and together create a sort of family. I am a romantic who loves happily ever after, so I was surprised at how okay I was with the lack of a "couple" in this book. The ending came as a wild twist. In 19th century works by writers like Wilkie Collins and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, seemingly paranormal events were proved to be the work of nefarious, but very real, villains. Think THE MOONSTONE and THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. Or Poe's MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE. Hedges turns this convention on its head. The resolution of the mystery was shocking but also strangely satisfying. I loved this book and I hope to get to take another fictional trip with Jo King and her motley crew of friends.