Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Canary Keeper by Clare Carson which was published in paperback on 6th February 2020. Thanks to Cerian at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my review copy.
About the Book
In the grey mist of the early morning a body is dumped on the shore of the Thames by a boatman in a metal canoe. The city is soon alive with talk of the savage Esquimaux stalking Victorian London and an eye witness who claims the killer had an accomplice: a tall woman dressed in widow’s weeds, with the telltale look of the degenerate Irish.
Branna ‘Birdie’ Quinn had no good reason to be by the river that morning, but she did not kill the man. She’d seen him first the day before, desperate to give her a message she refused to hear. But now the Filth will see her hang for this murder.
To save her life, Birdie must trace the dead man’s footsteps. Back onto the ship that carried him to his death, back to the cold isles of Orkney that sheltered him, and up to the far north, a harsh and lawless land which holds more answers than she looks to find…
Format: Paperback (384 pages) Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication date: 6th February 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Find The Canary Keeper on Goodreads
Moving between London and the Scottish island of Orkney, and opening with a dramatic prologue, The Canary Keeper cleverly incorporates real life events of the time, notably the disappearance of explorer Sir John Franklin, along with his two ships and their crew, while on his last expedition to the Arctic in 1845. The fate of the crew was the subject of much public speculation and debate at the time, including by notable figures of the day. In her author’s note, Clare Carson also reveals that Orkney’s history provided the inspiration for many of the female characters in the book such as wise woman, Morag, and Stromness shipping merchant, Margaret Skaill.
The crowded streets and dingy alleyways of foggy London – where the ‘wealthy and powerful exist cheek by jowl with the rotten and squalid‘ – and the wild, stormy landscape of Orkney are equally vividly depicted. I liked the way the author gives the reader Birdie’s perspective on the contrast between the two places. ‘In London the weather feels man-made, the thick fogs dense with soot. Here the elements seem untamed and unpredictable. The air is alive with strange, sharp smells – seaweed and salt. And there is no clanking of cranes or pounding of factory hammers, instead she hears the haunting calls of curlews and the cries of the gulls.’ On the other hand, there are sights on Orkney that evoke for her memories of romantic encounters in London.
There are gothic elements in the book such as ghostly apparitions and rumours of witchcraft and flesh-eating monsters. As Birdie observes, ‘While Orkney folk tell tales of witches and Finmen, we Londoners entertain ourselves with tales of murderers like Spring Heeled Jack who has horns and blazing eyes and vaults across rooftops in pursuit of his victims.’
Not only does Birdie feel compelled to search for the person responsible for the murder in order to clear her own name but also because she feels some strange, almost otherworldly, link to the victim. It’s as if “some inescapable pattern here, some force of fate [is] drawing her together with the murdered man”. It certainly explains some of the coincidences that allow Birdie to confirm the victim’s identity and come up with a theory as to a possible motive.
The tension builds as Birdie gets closer to finding out what has really been taking place on ‘the dark side of the river’ – corruption, cruelty and much worse. A shadowy figure emerges as the possible mastermind behind a conspiracy involving those with power and wealth. But is the culprit closer to home than Birdie imagines or has she been wrong all along about who she can trust? Finally, an unexpected revelation presents Birdie with a moral dilemma and a difficult personal choice. (Birdie, I think you made the right one!)
The Canary Keeper is an absorbing mystery with a great sense of period atmosphere and enough twists and turns to keep any historical crime fan satisfied.
In three words: Atmospheric, gripping, suspenseful
Try something similar: Hudson’s Killby Paddy Hirsch
About the Author
Clare Carson grew up in the suburbs of London. She studied anthropology at university and lived for a while in villages in Tanzania and Zimbabwe doing ethnographic research. She has worked as an adviser on human rights and international development for nearly twenty years and has written three novels, all published by Head of Zeus.
She lives by the sea in Sussex with her partner, two daughters and a couple of very large cats.