Recently I’ve been reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I’d reached half way through and was wondering if perhaps I wouldn’t finish it. Although compelling in some ways, the book was beginning to irritate and frustrate me. I decided to take a break from it and began to read Susan Grossey’s book instead. I am very glad that I did because she makes writing historical fiction look easy and the reading of it a great pleasure. The Man in the Canary Waistcoat is set in 1825 in London (“this great, filthy, threatening, promising , thriving city …” – not much change there, then) and its protagonist is Samuel Plank, a magistrate’s constable. The story is about financial fraud concerning investments in the new energy of gas lighting. Sam Plank is helped out in his investigations by his engaging wife Martha and also his junior Constable Wilson. Here is a touching description of Martha.
“Despite having been married to a police officer for over twenty years, Martha retained her faith in the essential goodness of people – indeed I counted on it. On days when I had seen the very worst that someone can do to his fellow man I comforted myself that an evening by the fireside with my wife would convince me once again that although I moved in a world of shadows, I identified them as shadows only because of the lightness that Martha brought to my life.”
Grossey is particularly good at quick, vivid descriptions of people and place. Here is the man and his waistcoat:
“His fair hair was cut fashionably, and his clothes – from the bright yellow waistcoat to the artfully arranged cravat -suggested someone with altogether too close an acquaintance with his tailor and his looking glass.”
Here a young law clerk:
“The young man who answered my knock was wearing a coat clearly inherited from someone much larger; it hung from his shoulders, and he repeatedly and pointlessly pushed back the cuffs. The ink smudges on his fingers told me that he was a junior clerk, and his relegation to door duties told me that he was not much good at it.”
And here’s a lovely description of a nasty bit of weather:
“If it is true that the wind drives creatures and men mad, then that first week in August would have seen Bedlam bursting at the seams. It was a hot dry wind – coming all the way from southern France, they said – and it whipped and whistled through London for five days straight. The draymen’s horses whinnied and stamped their discomfort as the foetid gusts swirled around them, while the livestock being driven through the streets bleated and bellowed their unease and took every opportunity to break away from their herders.”
The plot leads to the Marshalsea debtors’ prison and also the ‘twisting alleyways of Wapping’ where Plank was brought up as a child due to his father being a lighterman. There is enough archaic language here to make you feel you are in a different era and a useful glossary at the back to check on unfamiliar words. This is the second in the Plank novels and I’m now going to go backwards and take a look at the first one Fatal Forgery. My only slight quibble is that I wouldn’t have minded if the book was longer. Plank and his associates are amiable company and I didn’t want the book to end. Of course, it may have been that in comparison with A Little Life (a long book) the next book I read was always going to seem short.
Here’s the link to Susan’s blog: https://susangrossey.wordpress.com/purchase/
9 thoughts on “THE MAN IN THE CANARY WAISTCOAT”
Sounds excellent…Interesting you mention not finishing books. I’ve been going through the same thing with a couple. Maybe it’s an age thing when you think life’s too short to read books that don’t grab you? Except that I thought the same with Yann Martel’s book The High Mountains of Portugal, which suddenly transformed itself into an utterly wonderful novel just when I was giving up hope…There’s a lesson there, somewhere!
It’s a tricky one isn’t it, Colin. I’ve always been a staunch end them at any cost-er but A Little Life is filled with trauma and half way through the main character gets involved with someone extremely nasty but I didn’t quite believe it. It seemed too shlocky really for my tastes and other irritations had been creeping in. In the end I did finish the book but I needed a bit of a breather. Am I glad I finished it? I’m not altogether sure! Interesting to hear about Yann Martel’s book though.
Thank you so much for this very generous review, Victoria – I am so pleased you liked meeting Sam and Martha. I am working hard now on “Plank 4” (which I promise will one day have a better title), heading for a publication date of 21 October. That suddenly seems rather close…! I am also having “Fatal Forgery” turned into an audiobook, which is an exciting venture – I am so pleased with the voice I have found for Sam.
Best wishes from Susan
The book was a real pleasure to read. Also great cover and title. I’m very much looking forward to reading the others. How exciting to hear Sam come alive. Good luck with it all. I am very pleased to have discovered Sam through Helen’s A2Z challenge. It was great to be involved with so many other fantastic writers.
I read your post yesterday on my phone and had to come to comment – I really like the sound of this, the archaic language with glossary had me as I do like the way this instantly transports you to a different time period. I’m going to check out the first in the series now – thank you.
Hi Cleo I very much hope you enjoy the books. There’s something about the sensibility of them I like. They’re gentle and have an almost old-fashioned sweetness to them. And I loved the historical detail.
Thank you to Vicky for recommending my books, and to Cleopatralovesbooks for taking a chance on them! Cleo (if I may), the first one, “Fatal Forgery”, does not have a glossary as I hadn’t thought of doing it, but the second and third ones do. And from number four onwards (work in progress) they will also have maps, so that you can follow the characters around London.
Best wishes from Susan
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Maps sounds great – I did get a real feel for the city from your writing but maps would make it even better!
I’m very careful about accuracy – I walk every route that Sam takes, to make sure that I get the timings right (my husband calls it “walking the Plank”. But not everyone knows London, and I thought it might be fun to see the key locations.