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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Romp Through The Victorian Underworld

The Double Life of Cora Parry - Angela McAllister

The Double Life Of Cora Parry is another title in the Gothic revival that continues to flourish in publishing for young people. It’s the story of an eleven-year-old girl rescued in infancy from the workhouse by a benevolent sailor, only to be turned out penniless once more when he dies.

Adrift in the merciless welter that is nineteenth century London, Cora fights a losing battle to preserve her sense of right and wrong. Forced to resort to a life of crime, she develops an alter ego, whom she calls Carrie. At first it’s a great success: Carrie commits the crimes and Cora avoids the guilt. But soon Carrie takes on a life of her own and Cora finds herself haunted by the doppelganger she has created.

Angela McAllister’s descriptive writing is a delight. With a keen eye for salient detail, she paints a vivid and compelling portrait of Victorian England with all its colour, excitement, hypocrisy and squalor. Here she is describing a coach on a rainy night: “Outside a carriage waited in the rain, hunched like a monstrous black beetle; the coachman’s wet leathers shone in the lamplight”

I was less impressed with the architecture of the plot. Half the novel is spent building up the fascinating and complex character who inducts Cora into the subterranean world of the capital. Fletch is a girl who dresses as a boy, a master-thief who carries a blade and has no scruples about using it, but who faithfully feeds and supports a cellar full of hapless beggars and misfits. But when Fletch is caught by the police Angela McAllister abandons her completely and the second half of the book feels smaller as a consequence.

The ending in which Cora is saved at the last minute from the consequences of her actions and given a second chance also seemed to me both a little hurried and a little too convenient. Nevertheless, with its strong female characters, its ever-present sense of menace and its darkly enticing evocation of the Victorian underworld The Double Life Of Cora Parry is a gripping read.

(Review first published at www.writeaway.org.uk)