Friday, December 30, 2011
By Sarah Waters
Susan was raised in a den of thieves in Victorian London. The matriarch of this den was Mrs. Sucksby. Mrs. Sucksby was not Susan's mother, but had been a foster mother to her since Susan's infancy. Mrs. Sucksby ran a "baby farm," a kind of black market orphanage. She received orphaned and unwanted infants and took care of them until they could be placed with a family or work situation. She also sometimes received young women in trouble who needed an out-of-the way place to bear their bastard children. At about the time that Susan was born, an unfortunate young woman from an upper class family took refuge with Mrs. Sucksby and gave birth to a baby girl, a baby girl who would be the sole heir to a vast fortune. But there was a catch to this inheritance: the girl had to be married before she could receive her inheritance. This is what the young, pregnant woman confided to Mrs. Sucksby and Mrs. Sucksby held on to this information until the time was ripe to act upon it.
So almost 18 years later, Mrs. Sucksby, Mr. Richard Rivers, a young man and confederate of Mrs. Sucksby's, and Susan come together in a plot to get their hands on this vast fortune, due to be inherited by a young girl living in a lonely and isolated mansion about forty miles outside London. The plan is for Mr. Rivers, posing as an art expert, and Susan, posing as a ladies' maid, to insinuate themselves into the lonely mansion and seduce the young woman, Maud, away from the protection of her uncle and thus gain access to the vast fortune by Mr. Rivers marrying Maud, getting her wealth and then abandoning her to an insane asylum.
That's the plan, anyway. But the plotters have plots of their own and things go awry and some will end up in places they never expected and some will gain all and some will lose all.
This was a really good read, with lots of plot twists, and double-dealing aplenty. And I liked the ending, too.