Music hall gave Victorian women financial freedom, says Kitty Peck author Kate Griffin
03 August, 2017 — By Maggie Gruner
Kate Griffin, author of Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow
A DANCING lion treading the boards at The Bedford music hall in Camden Town appears in Kate Griffin’s latest Kitty Peck mystery.
The third novel in the series, Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow revisits feisty Kitty’s Victorian London, where she has inherited a “filthy” empire of vice and crooked trade from her mobster grandmother.
The three music halls Kitty owns – although in this novel just one remains a going concern – are the only part of her empire she sees as “clean”.
Reading the London Pictorial News, former music hall star Kitty notes that The Bedford, a competitor, has “jugglers, acrobats, harlequins and a Signor Cardoni and his dancing lion”.
Another news item relates to a sinister cabal, the Barons of London. Determined to find Kitty’s elusive brother, they menace her and her friends.
Though the novel is set in the clammy summer of 1881, its villains trail icicles down the spine. Murder and maiming are their stock in trade.
No wonder Kitty sometimes turns to opium.
To add to her woes, pornographic graffiti of her appears throughout her “manor”.
She delves into murky secrets, early on tapping journalist Sam Collins – who calls to mind young reporter Charles Dickens – for information in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
Evoking the sights, sounds and rank smells of the Victorian city, the novel rattles around twists and turns encompassing mystery, heinous crimes, clever codes and daring rescue.
Kitty’s lively narrative is laden with similes, including the vivid “hot as a glassblower’s arse” (describing a cell in Bedlam).
It’s gloriously gothic and compelling.
Author Kate Griffin researched women in music hall, basing Kitty’s role as proprietor of three halls on fact.
“In a world where women often had limited control over their lives and decisions, it was fascinating to learn that working ‘the halls’ could offer both financial and artistic freedom.”
Researching performers and acts, she noted the dancing lion, which “tickled my fancy and would definitely appeal to Kitty”.
But it’s unlikely the lion ever appeared at The Bedford in Camden (the Old Bedford was later replaced by the new one, also now demolished).
Kate included the Old Bedford because she writes sitting opposite a reproduction of Walter Sickert’s painting of its “rowdy” audience.
She mentions Sickert’s possible connection to Jack the Ripper – “a character who just might (or might not) have a role in Kitty’s story.”
That story will continue with Kitty Peck and the Parliament of Shadows. “Dark and deadly surprises” are promised.
• Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow. By Kate Griffin. Faber and Faber, £7.99