Once again I’ve just finished a book set in England. Hmmm. Fingersmith has been around for quite a while, but I just discovered it a few weeks ago. The story is set in the Victorian age and quite literally begins in a den of thieves in London. Sue is a pickpocket or fingersmith who has grown up under the tutelage of Mrs. Sucksby. Mrs. Sucksby is a one woman orphanage, or baby farmer, taking on unwanted infants and selling them when opportunities arise. Mr. Ibbs lives in the same house and fences stolen goods.
One of their colleagues is alleged to be a “Gentleman” who has run through his own money gambling and engaging in other spendthrift behaviors. He has discovered an orphan girl, Maud, who will come into money when she is married. She lives with her strange uncle in a manor 40 miles outside of London. Gentleman persuades Sue to act as a lady’s maid to entrap Maud into marriage, and then to dispose of her in a mental hospital when they’ve secured the money. Sue is reluctant at first, after all she’s an illiterate thief. Gentleman instructs her in how to be a lady’s maid, and she believes that she will be bringing back a tidy sum to share with her cobbled together family.
The plot seems simple enough and there’s the rub. Waters takes you on a fascinating journey with intricate twists and turns. It’s a tale of manipulation, but who is manipulating whom is part of the fun. Add to this a bit of eroticism and Victorian sexual hypocrisy and it stays interesting throughout its 580 pages.