The year is 1792 and it’s winter in Berkeley Square. As the city sleeps, the night-watchman keeps a cautious eye over the streets and another eye in the back doors of the great and the good. Then one fateful night he comes across the body of Pierre Renard, the eponymous silversmith, lying dead, his throat cut and his valuables missing. It could be common theft, committed by one of the many villains who stalk the square, but as news of the murder spreads, it soon becomes clear that Renard had more than a few enemies, all with their own secrets to hide.
At the centre of this web is Mary, the silversmith’s wife. Ostensibly theirs was an excellent pairing, but behind closed doors their relationship was a dark and at times sadistic one and when we meet her, Mary is withdrawn and weak, haunted by her past and near-mad with guilt. Will she attain the redemption she seeks and what, exactly, does she need redemption for?
Rich, intricate and beautifully told, this is a story of murder, love and buried secrets.
3 / 5 stars
The Silversmith’s Wife is a very slow-moving story of the shocking murder of a silversmith and the impact it has on the lives of the people around him.
This is a book full of people with secrets. It touches on different people and their thoughts but never shows us their whole, much is kept hidden, often the people in the story don’t understand themselves their own thoughts and actions. It makes it a murky story to read but I find it a much more accurate portrayal of the human character than those books where everyone seems to have a defined purpose and clear cut opinions on everyone and everything. It just makes for more difficult reading.
I call it a murky story because not only the characters do odd things and their motivations are often unclear, what they do is often unclear too. A lot of the big events seem to happen off-page and are alluded to or described very loosely for us to fill in the details ourselves.
Where it succeeds is in creating an oppressive, heavy atmosphere and a world that is brought to life with very detailed characters and lots of historical details. Everyone in the book seems trapped, miserable, held captive by the rules of society in lives that they don’t really want.
There are a lot of characters in the story, some drop in and out and I found it hard to remember who they were. Despite this wide cast of characters, it makes me feel like there are only 10 people in the whole of London and they all know each other and everyone is either a silversmith or the child or partner of one.
I don’t mind slow-moving stories but for me, this one is just too dreary and has too many miserable characters in it with murky motivations for me to really like it. Though saying that, I read it very quickly. Towards the end, it picks up the pace a bit and it leads us nicely to the revelation of who really did kill the silversmith.
The diary entries from Pierre Renard, the murdered man, at the start of each chapter were really what kept me reading. In each one, we find out more of the secrets of his life and find out more about how cruel and self-obsessed he really was. Without them, I feel I would have become bored very quickly because the story is so slow-moving and seems to follow people around a lot without much really happening. Mary, the Silversmith’s Wife is an especially dull person. Though it’s part of the story that she has become that way through Pierre’s treatment of her, it still makes her very difficult to read. The excerpts from Pierre’s diary show the other side – he was not a nice man and through these excerpts I found myself finding the sympathy towards his wife that the story needs.
Read this one if you like slow-moving and dark stories full of historical detail but if you’re looking for an exciting murder story, then this probably isn’t one for you.