The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman

Sally Lockhart wasn't an entirely new character to me when I first decided to sit down with The Ruby in the Smoke. My mom had recommended I give them a go a few years back and then Angie did a Retro Friday post on their awesomeness and so, consequently I've had them in the back of my mind ever since. Now I'm not really a dedicated mystery reader, but after finishing Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy earlier this year, I found myself stunned with his storytelling ability and curious about his other novels. What I found in this first Sally Lockhart mystery was a entirely unexpected yet happy surprise. With what has to be one of the best opening paragraphs I've ever read, I became immediately invested in the struggles of one friendless sixteen year old girl trying to solve the mystery of her father's murder.

Sally Lockhart wasn't raised like your typical Victorian England lady. She likes to read books, review military tactics, and happens to be a crack shot. So when Sally is told that her father has been killed while sailing home from China, Sally isn't content to simply mourn her beloved father while others decide her fate. This unusually intelligent sixteen year-old decides to track down her father's murderer on her own - no matter that she is female, alone, and penniless. Along the way, Sally receives help from the resourceful errand-boy Jim Thorpe (who likes nothing better than to trade insults or sit down with a penny dreadful) and a quick-witted young photographer named Frederick Garland. Support that goes a long way in helping Sally face murderous secrets, horribly nefarious landladies, opium dens, and even one fist-sized ruby. 

The Ruby in the Smoke is an atmospheric, dark mystery with engaging characters where things tend to go horribly wrong - always a good thing in my opinion. I admire Philip Pullman for putting his characters in no-win situations where they are forced to make a hard choice, followed by a more difficult one. Sally may not be accomplished enough for the drawing room but her talents are many. Most refreshingly, her difficulty in remaining an independent woman in Victorian England is never made light of - in fact it's one of the major obstacles Sally has to overcome. And although I enjoyed Pullman's His Dark Materials books, the Sally Lockhart Mysteries are my new personal favorite and ones I'm glad to have finally discovered.

As a side note, has anyone watched the PBS Masterpiece adaptations to this series? I haven't heard much about them but I'm curious.

series reading order:
~ The Ruby in the Smoke
~ The Shadow in the North
~ The Tiger in the Well
~ The Tin Princess (companion novel)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
Firefly's Book Blog review
Jenny's Books review
Things Mean A Lot review

book source: swapped


Suey said...

I bought this one forever ago and still haven't read it. Sounds like I really need to!

Angiegirl said...

I covet those awesome noir covers...

And I'm so happy you read this one. They are truly a wonderful trilogy and so well written. That firs paragraph really hooks ya, like you said.

Michelle said...

Suey - It is a winner!

Angie - As do I. I'm so happy the one I found has that cover. Although my copy of TIGER IN THE WELL is one of the oldies. *sigh* may have to look around for a replacement. Once again tho, thanks for the recommendation!

Chachic said...

I remember reading the Sally Lockhart books when I was in grade school. I borrowed them from the school library. I bought copies of the whole set but I haven't gotten around to reading them again. I love the cover that you posted and I'm glad that's the edition that I have.

Michelle said...

Chachic- You ought to give them another try if it's been that long for you. If you're anything like me, you would have missed out on much of the story reading them that young. And yes, I *adore* these covers!