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A Dangerous Duet: A Novel by Karen Odden

Reviewed by Jim Eaton

This novel is a romantic thriller of sorts, set in London in 1875.

It concerns the comings and goings of one Nell Hallam, a young pianist whose chief desire is to study piano at the Royal Academy. At story’s open, she is employed three evenings a week at the Octavian, providing accompaniment for the various acts (magicians, jugglers, singers, trapeze artists, etc.), disguised as a man named Ed. As a woman, she’d be paid for less to play, if she were allowed to play at all.

Her position permits her access to a host of shady characters, some of which might not the scrutiny of her family physician, who fears for her mental health (her mother was manic-depressive), or her older brother, who is employed as a detective by Scotland Yard. Her daytime world bears little resemblance to her gig at the Octavian, and Nell does her dear best to keep these worlds apart, with, as one might expect, dwindling levels of success as we get deeper into story. Organized crime, corrupt coppers, sniveling schemers, sympathetic rogues, and several Dickensian tropes hop about, all bent on ruining Nell’s days and Ed’s nights.

The yarn pulls one along, no doubt. Odden deftly navigates London of the time with the confidence of a tour guide, reminding me at times of a certain Irish author whose creations stumbled and bloomed about Dublin, those they were notably burdened by a relentless ineluctable cavalcade of proto-post modern modalities and odysseys the likes of which Odden chooses to eschew. Instead, she strides forward and through in the manner of perhaps Ann Radcliffe and the Inimitable Boz himself. Her sense of place, of putting in a scene, made me wish to act (as I sometimes badly do) in a production with her as the director or at least set designer. The specificity of imagery is at times remarkable. The actions are equally excellent. Read the rest of this entry »