In Rack and Ruin, Victorian progress continues apace. The age of the railway has begun and people’s homes are being knocked down to make way for the tracks. It is 1863 and lowly bank clerks, Danton Waxwing and Edwin Persiflage relieve the monotony of their daily drudge by plotting anarchist deeds. Inspector Lachlan Greig, however, is more concerned with the discovery of tiny bodies revealed by the railway company’s explosives.
Meanwhile in Fitzroy Square, Daisy Lawton, spoilt daughter of an eminent surgeon, tries on beautiful dresses, in which to meet a potential husband. Her former school friend, Tishy Simpkins, would prefer to continue her studies aided by the Ladies’ Literary and Philosophical Society, but she is enforced to look after her young brothers and attend to domestic tasks, by her uncaring father. Amongst the other characters in the novel is young engineer, Fred Grizewood, who would dearly love to discuss his ideas with his renowned mentor, Joseph Bazalgette, but an unexpected event changes his life profoundly.
This novel is rich with mid Victorian life, from the gutter press to the fine drawing rooms and on to rough pubs frequented by villains and prostitutes. Struggling in this hectic world, are oppressed women, caring police officers and evil baby farmers.
I take particular pleasure from the authentic 19th century writing style, so fitting to the subject matter and my knowledge is enriched by the inclusion of words which are new to me, such as “cynosure”. The definition of this word, used by Carol Hedges, is, “something that strongly attracts attention by its brilliance.” I think that’s an accurate description of this book.