Friday, August 11, 2017

Five books set below London

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley is an American/German writer of science fiction, fantasy and aviation non-fiction. Her publications include the novella Domnall and the Borrowed Child and the novel Wail, which takes place both above and below the streets of London. One entry on her list of five favorite modern novels which focus on the world underneath the United Kingdom’s capital city, as shared at
Montmorency by Eleanor Updale

Montmorency takes us back to the Victorian era for this crime novel with the subtitle Thief, Liar, Gentleman? in its US release. This Victorian mystery follows the story of a thief who takes advantage of the sewers running through London to live a dual life: one is a life of crime hiding below London and the other is in the streets above as a gentleman, taking advantage of his newfound riches. When we meet Prisoner 493, he is undergoing radical surgery to repair his shattered bones and flesh after he fell through a skylight in a burglary gone wrong. The patient becomes the surgeon’s exhibit at scientific conferences, where he has the good fortune to witness Sir Joseph Bazalgette present the map of his newly built sewers servicing London. The potential for crime is clear to him and, when Prisoner 493 is released, he plots a rise to the upper classes through a series of daring thefts, using the sewers to disappear without a trace.

It’s unlikely, of course, that a self-made Victorian man with no education could pass as a gentleman simply by mimicking the accent but, with a bit of suspension of disbelief, this is a fun and interesting story. Having waded through the sewers myself, I can tell you that I’m convinced that Updale has been there too. She describes too perfectly the shocking warmth of the water flowing down the pipes (although I note the liquid only went up to the ankles of her main character, whereas I experienced it up to my thighs!) and the conversations of the flushers clearing the oddities stuck in the bends of the brick tunnels.

There is no speculative aspect to this Victorian crime novel, the first in a series of five, but I enjoyed experiencing the “real world” underneath London as long as I didn’t think about the history too hard.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue