I admit I have been very lucky.
Not only did I work in the Inner Temple of London [where the Guardians lurk] as a Junior Clerk to a Barrister-at-Law for a few years, but I also worked in London’s Hyde Park.
Believe me when I confirm that it truly felt as if I was ‘travelling back in time‘ each time I went to work at these places. At my chambers in Crown Office Row — wigs and gowns were commonplace, so were sealing waxed letters and red ribboned briefs … in our office we had chandeliers, suits of armor, antique furniture and each & every available bit of flat surface covered in shelving for thousands upon thousands of books.
My co-workers at The Temple dressed like Dickens characters too, wearing dandy clothes, whips and straps, top-hats and canes, handle-bar mustaches and always, always, they chose tailed frock-coats for work! Amazing, but true! So it doesn’t surprise me at all that Kerstin Gier set her tale in and around this weird part of London… a place that has not properly evolved since the nineteenth century.
Hyde Park felt perhaps older still, if that is even possible. I worked out of a place called “Ranger’s Lodge” — a building that went back to Queen Elizabeth the First.
[btw, those in the know call the Temple one of the “inns of court” — there is another one situated a short walk away known as Lincoln’s Inn — it is just as remarkable.]
If you visit the Temple in the City of London today, and I strongly suggest you do [hint: bring a camera] you will find a secret little pocket of London that has not changed since 1817. In fact, production companies often use Kings Bench Walk as a “street scene” in costumes dramas. I always shout, to anyone listening, “That’s where I used to work …” especially when a famous fictional character, such as Sherlock Holmes or Mister Pickwick, enters a house in the Temple. Everyone yawns and goes back to their smartphones, because they’ve heard it all before.
Additionally, I am a bit of an expert on Hyde Park, where the Prologue of this novel, Ruby Red is set, and the London park mentioned most frequently as a backdrop.
Not to sound boastful, [and I admit that it now seems braggy, putting the words down on paper] but I used to do guided walking tours around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.
My talks were about the social history, ecology, architecture and nature of the London Park and were quite popular. I worked for the Royal Parks for a number of years so I had a clear advantage. And when we were told that they wanted to send people on training courses to become ‘tour guides’ I jumped at the opportunity… though not many others did. Anyway, the reason I’m telling you all this is to explain that I know Hyde Park and the Temple very well, better than most actually, and I can confirm [if you hadn’t already suspected it] that Gier has perfectly described these wonderful places in her novel. In fact, so handsome are her descriptions that I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I discovered she was one of the employees I worked alongside back in those years.
So the setting of Ruby Red was a strong motivating factor for me. I loved it. My only concern was that perhaps there was too much time spent creeping around in the dark [blind-folded.] This suggested, to me, that the author just wanted to get on with the action, and didn’t want to fuss with the world-building aspect. Maybe that’s a good thing… But it was silly for me.
So I approached this book with childlike delight, and enjoyed reading about the Temple and loving the back-story. But, being an idiot boy, I have to freely admit that I had immense difficulties with the family relationships.
I get into a sort-of mental entanglement with family trees, anyway. Even my own. I have a few nieces, nephews, god-children and assorted hangers-on that reside in various perches of my own family tree… My wife routinely asks me to recite their names and ages and include other salient facts. I always get into a pickle over the exercise. So far, never once, have I actually managed to remember all their names. You might suggest that it’s because I am “too old” and my brain has “stopped working” but I assure you that it has always been this way! Even when I was a young student studying English Lit I couldn’t really ‘get to grips’ with all the names and characters in a book. And Ruby Red has loads!
Another early concern for me was Gwen’s general state of mental health. Without giving anything away, at least I can suggest that the protagonist suffers from strange delusions [the illness could run in the family.]
Most common delusional themes are covered in Ruby Red. So, for this reason, I had a constant and disconcerting doubt about the plausibility of the tale.
But then, to counter-balance all that strangeness, we have the best friend in the world and trusted assistant, Lesley. She adds a much-needed dimension of reality to proceedings. I just loved this character [and I am prepared to say that I secretly wished she had been chosen to go on the adventures, she is so much more capable, wise and, let’s be honest, prepared.]
It is Lesley who discovers the stuff about the Count Saint-Germain that makes the story far more credible. Probably like everyone, I checked him out, did my own research, and was amazed at what I found.
Once the Count became involved, this story really got motoring [for me] and I got involved.
I suppose that the turning point of the book revolves around the realization that the “gifts” Ruby Red possesses are coveted and come at a price.
And then suddenly, all too quickly, I arrived at the end.
I still have doubts about some aspects of this book, such as the hallucinatory experiences in the church, or the front-cover (which I find dreadful, but it is a matter of personal taste … ) but overall this is a fast paced, easy going novel. Highly entertaining, with much historical accuracy and sufficient conspiracy theories ie, Masonry, the New World Order and the Illuminati, to make things very interesting indeed.
I give it four stars.
Neil Mach is author of Blayz the Bryte Schiener, Into Disrepute and Postcard Angel. Currently working on The Bedevilment of Bertie Lunn to be out early 2017