Amid the drama of the suffragette movement in Edwardian London, the disappearance of a famous trapeze artist in the middle of her act leads a young Fleet Street reporter to an underworld of circus performers, fetishists, and society columnists.
The suffragette movement is reaching a fever pitch, and Inspector Frederick Primrose is hunting a murderer on his beat. Across town, Fleet Street reporter Frances “Frankie” George is chasing an interview with trapeze artist Ebony Diamond. Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly-laced acrobat and follows her to a Bond Street corset shop that seems to be hiding secrets of its own. When Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, Frankie and Primrose are both drawn into the shadowy world of a secret society with ties to both London's criminal underworld and its glittering socialites.
How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory? From newsrooms to the drawing rooms of high society, the investigation leads Frankie and Primrose to a murderous villain with a plot more deadly than anyone could have imagined.
Ribchester's energetic debut builds a quirky mystery around the 1912 suffrage demonstrations and hunger strikes in London, which authorities met with mass arrests, later force-feeding the prisoners. Aspiring journalist Francesca "Frankie" George, who wears men's clothes and chafes at her lowly newspaper job, senses an opportunity for advancement when asked to profile trapeze artist and suffragette Ebony Diamond. Instead, she discovers two deaths that seem to be failed attacks on the acrobat shortly before Diamond suddenly disappears. Frankie's quest for answers threatens her life and leads her to Frederick Primrose, a weary detective inspector at the Scotland Yard squad tasked with controlling the suffragettes' constant disruptions. Their converging investigations wend through harrowing prisons, seedy variety shows, a suffrage leader's office, and a corset shop that is more than it seems. The novel's phantasmagoric world and complex themes, from gender and class inequity to the justifications for violent activism, are fascinating. But Ribchester fails to give her idiosyncratic characters or her story's myriad elements (the Titanic, Jack the Ripper, fetishism, poison ivy, snake charming, and the Tarot, among other things) the full development they deserve, making the book feel overcrowded and emotionally flat despite its imaginative strength.