As the curtain falls on the Kitty Peck Mysteries, Maggie Gruner talks Sir John Soane and music hall with author Kate Griffin
14 November, 2019 — By Maggie Gruner
Kitty Peck author Kate Griffin
IN the candlelit crypt of Sir John Soane’s house, a museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a woman and man secretly prepare to probe a sinister cabal.
It is 1881 and feisty music hall proprietor Kitty Peck and her friend and romantic interest, journalist Sam Collins, meet by the museum’s sarcophagus of Egyptian Pharaoh Sethi.
In this, the fourth and final novel in Kate Griffin’s Kitty Peck Mysteries, Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Westminster are key locations – appropriately, given the book’s title, Kitty Peck and the Parliament of Shadows.
That’s no reflection on today’s Westminster bunch. The novel’s shadows move in an autumnal Victorian London pulsing with secrets, spies and evildoers.
Originally a music hall performer dubbed the “Limehouse Linnet”, Kitty has inherited her mobster grandmother’s East End criminal empire.
But her music halls, “the one thing she left to me that doesn’t feel dirty,” are the only part of her inheritance Kitty cares about.
She’s ready to combat the threat – to herself, her close-knit friends and all she holds dear – from fiendish Lord Kite, kingpin of the powerful Barons of London, and his associates. Another foe is a ranting preacher who stirs up mobs into a moral fervour against the “decadence” of the music halls.
People aren’t always who they appear to be. There are twists and turns aplenty, a meeting in a secret government department, and grisly corpses left by a mystery murderer. Tension builds. In one white-knuckle scene Kitty – disguised as a man in order to enter a gentlemen’s club in St James’s, Westminster – and Sam hide under a villain’s bed when he returns unexpectedly while they are searching his room.
The nail-biting finale takes place beneath the Tower of London.
A tad elaborate, the story nevertheless zips along, and with engaging characters makes for compulsive reading.
Author Kate Griffin skilfully creates atmosphere through her vivid descriptions of people and places.
Kitty is watched by “a hundred pairs of stony eyes” at the Sir John Soane museum, with its life-sized statues, mirrors and crystal. “Bilious light” filtered by a glass dome gives the impression she is moving under water.
Speaking to Review, Kate said she has “huge affection” for the museum, where she used to work as press officer.
Watch this space, because Kate added that there has been “a small flutter of TV interest” in Kitty.
But for now at least Kate won’t be writing any more books about the heroine.
She said: “I’ll miss Kitty. She has been such a part of my life. Sometimes I hear her voice in my head. As the series has gone on it has developed a following. It’s surprising how much people have taken the characters to heart.”
Kate, whose early childhood home was in Islington, carried out extensive research and drew inspiration from a picture she sits opposite while she writes. It’s a reproduction of Walter Sickert’s painting of the “rowdy” audience at the Old Bedford music hall, Camden Town.
• Kitty Peck and the Parliament of Shadows. By Kate Griffin. Faber and Faber, £8.99