A quartet of novels (including the final novel of the series, The Whole Story) set in Victorian England featuring Bella Wallis, mysterious lady and author writing under a male 'nom de plume,' Henry Ellis Margam.
I am repeatably fascinated, confused and puzzled by Bella. She is a lady who as Bella reflects, lives in deception just like 'the sprawling fig' outside her drawing room window that 'suggested secret gardens beyond. But in truth the foliage hid a blank wall.'
It seems however that via her slightly erotic mystery novels she portrays those in society who have done some evil act, albeit disguised, but with just enough reality about them for recognition by others.
Her novels are based upon some chance occurrence that Bella intuitively realizes as having that factor, that hook that her writing might build upon. Her writings in turn lead her towards murder investigations. Investigations that others of her circle take up.
As Bella muses about her writings,
'Her books always began with a modest discovery, like walking into a dark and trackless forest and finding a single pearl earring hanging from a twig.'
Interesting characters pop up in her world. We are drawn to them yet often repelled by them or their actions. This coterie of friends and companions are varied and resourceful and stretch across the class lines, her French companion Marie Claude D'Anville, the seedy Captain Quigley who supplies her with information and effects, Murch an ex soldier with a steely will who doesn't flinch from violence, Philip Westland possible government spy, to her elderly yet influential friend Lord Broxtowe who assists her endeavours with information about various persons of interest for her novels.
Just as fascinating is that none of her circle is who they seem at first, although they stay true to our initial introduction. As we meet them in new situations their reactions reveal more fully who they are, they develop and change--though not always in a way we admire.
As I have intimated I have moments of liking Bella, moments of frustration with her. She is at once both awkward and empathetic with people, hurtful and contrite, sincere and shallow, insightful and blind. In short she is quite human.
Thompson's descriptive writings as we follow Bella and her companions from London to Paris and beyond are quite compelling and almost Dicksonian in aura. A worthy vehicle for Bella's pursuits about the truth surrounding her investigations.
Bella Wallis is a woman of contradictions, as are her stories. These contradictions, her impulsive reactions, and Thompson's prose, are what held my interest throughout, even when I didn't like her--and when I did.
A NetGalley ARC