Skip to main content

Review: The Dark Lantern, by Gerri Brightwell

I’ve sort of been on a Victorian historical fiction jag lately. First Kept, then The Sealed Letter… and now The Dark Lantern, by Gerri Brightwell.

Set in London in 1893, the story centers around the Bentleys and their servants. Robert Bentley is involved in the study of anthropometry, the study of identifying criminals by their measurements. His wife, Mina, struggles to escape from her past. They are joined by the supposed widow of Robert’s brother, Henry, drowned at sea. In addition, there are the servants: Cartwright, the butler; Mrs. Johnson, the cook; Elsie, the scullery maid; Sarah, the shifty first housemaid; and Jane, the second housemaid. The novel opens when Jane arrives in London, trying to escape the secrets that she, too, harbors. A few days after her arrival, a burglar breaks into the Bentley home and rifles around in the study, triggering a series of events that are shrouded in mystery.

I have mixed feelings about this book. Although the premise is intriguing, I thought that this book isn’t quite as well-thought-out as it might have been. There are way too many things in Mina’s past that are merely hinted at; same thing goes for the widow and Jane. There’s not much in terms of explaining each character’s motives, and certain characters’ manipulation of others was a little too overt. I thought the comparison between anthropometry and fingerprinting was absolutely fascinating, however. And the ambience of the novel was deliciously chilling. But at the same time, I thought that the relationship between the Bentleys and their servants was a little too unrealistic. Yes, there probably was a lot of distrust on both sides, but not, I imagine, to the extent that the Bentleys distrust their servants here. Also, I thought the ending was a little half-baked; too many loose threads. Other than that, though, the book is quite convincing as an historical period piece, in an era where class distinction was quite rigidly defined.


Literary Feline said…
Thank you for the great review! I may have to look into this one further--even with the flaws you mention it does sound intriguing.
Amanda said…
You've probably read this one but another good book in this topic is The Alienist by Caleb Carr. Loved it.

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is an old dotard, her third locks her up in the house for days and won't let her out; and the last is a fop who a…

Review: This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 254Original date of publication: 1964My edition: 1964 (William Morrow)Why I decided to read: it was 90 degrees outside at the time and I decided it was time to read another book by a favorite authorHow I acquired my copy: from Susanna Kearsley, December 2009Sometimes, whether or not I decide to read a book depends on the weather. Mary Stewart’s books are best read on either very hot or very cold days; and since it was 90 degrees out one weekend a couple of weeks ago, I decided that this one would be perfect. And it was.This Rough Magic takes its title from The Tempest, a play from which this novel takes off. Lucy Waring is a struggling actress who comes to visit her sister on Corfu. One of her neighbors is a renowned actor who’s taken a bit of a sabbatical and his son, a musician with whom Lucy comes to blows at first. This Rough Magic is vintage Mary Stewart, with a murder or two, a mystery, romance, suspense, and lots of magic thrown in. Lucy is your typical Mary Stewart hero…

Review: Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith

Pages: 294
Original date of publication: 1963
My edition: 2010 (Harper Perennial)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, Phoenix, January 2011

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it, oh, half a dozen times, so I was interested to see how Joy in the Morning would compare.

Set in the late 1920s, Joy in the Morning begins when Annie, aged 18, comes to a small Midwestern college town where her fiancée, Carl, is in law school. The novel opens with their marriage in the county courthouse, and follows the couple through their first year or so of marriage. It’s a struggle, because Carl and Annie are basically children themselves, for all the ways in which Carl tries to appear more adult-like.

Annie is endearing; she’s ignorant but a voracious reader, reading everything from Babbitt to War and Peace. Betty Smith’s novels are pretty autobiographical; Joy in the Morning is (unofficially) a kind of sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—cert…