I can’t remember when I picked this one up – some Kindle sale or other, probably – but in the middle of a sleepless night a few nights ago I thought I might as well get some reading done. I picked this at random, and was very pleasantly surprised!
Book: Point of Honour by Madeleine E Robins
Read before: No
Point of Honour is a bizarre mash-up of hard-boiled detective novel, and historical Regency social satire, that really shouldn’t work, but absolutely does. Sarah Tolerance, our PI, is a Fallen Woman – she eloped with her fencing master as a teen and ruined her reputation forever. But refusing to lose her honour as well as her reputation by becoming a worker in her aunt’s brothel, she sets herself up in business as a proto-Sherlock Holmes, investigating strange things that the ton would rather were kept on the downlow.
Honestly, the writing in this novel is just spot on. It’s got the tone and language of an Austen novel, but with a fiercely modern heroine who has more snark than you can shake a stick at. I don’t read much modern crime fiction at all, as I don’t find gore or psychological scares particularly fun, but the ones I do read tend to be historical (I love Holmes, and one of my favourite series in the whole world is Lindsey Davis’ Falco mysteries, set in Ancient Rome). The best crime fiction, for me, is one with unusual cases, where you learn something about the society they are set in, and with a detective who has character and a host of annoying relations and friends who get in the way. And Point of Honour perfectly hits those spots!
I loved Sarah as a character, and I very much enjoyed the other people she met along the way. This is not the calm civility of Austen’s England, this is an exploration of Cheapside and the murkier parts of London – prostitution features very heavily in the plot, but it’s discussed in a very nuanced and modern way. Sarah’s attitude, when people assume that she must be a prostitute, is always to answer that she isn’t, but there isn’t anything wrong with those who are. I liked her relationship with her aunt, and the way that it changed over the novel’s course – it was a great portrayal of family ties and the complications they bring.
There is romance, which I wasn’t expecting, but I can’t say much without spoilers. Safe to say, it’s as clever and unexpected as the rest of this book.
If you’re a fan of historical crime fiction, definitely check this out. If you’re not, but you like a badass, independent heroine, definitely check it out anyway!
Four out of five cats.