A story of love and political intrigue, set against the backdrop of the English hunting shires and the streets of Victorian London and post-revolutionary Paris.
When Harriet Howard becomes Louis Napoleon’s mistress and financial backer and appears at his side in Paris in 1848, it is as if she has emerged from nowhere. How did the English daughter of a Norfolk boot-maker meet the future Emperor? Who is the mysterious Nicholas Sly and what is his hold over Harriet?
Can Harriet meet her obligations and return to her former life and the man she left behind? What is her involvement with British Government secret services? Can Harriet’s friend, jockey Tom Olliver, help her son Martin solve his own mystery: the identity of his father?
The central character is Harriet Howard and the action takes place between 1836 and 1873. The plot centres on Harriet’s relationships with Louis Napoleon and famous Grand National winning jockey, Jem Mason. The backdrop to the action includes significant characters from the age, including Lord Palmerston, Queen Victoria and the Duke of Grafton, as well as Emperor Napoleon III. The worlds of horse racing, hunting and government provide the scope for rural settings to contrast with the city scenes of London and Paris and for racing skulduggery to vie with political chicanery.
The Merest Loss is historical fiction with a twist. It’s pacy and exciting with captivating characters and a distinctive narrative voice.
The very detailed synopsis above gives you an excellent taster of what the books action about, so it only really remains for me to tell you how beautifully written this book is. The author has an easy, flowing style. He writes in the third person present tense, which is unusual for historical fiction but works extremely well by making everything so immediate. History is repeating itself now for us.
I have to confess I was a little daunted when I saw the long list of dramatis personae that opens the book. Would I ever remember who this earl was or how that lady fits in? You don’t have to worry as the action lays out who’s who and you easily work out the roles they play in the rich tapestry of this book. The wide circle of people we meet gives a broad portrayal of society at the time.
The author has chosen a fascinating period and a particularly fascinating historical figure to write about. He has clearly done painstaking research and added plenty of imagination. I especially enjoyed the insight into horseracing in the book. That’s something that our author has a lot of interest in and it really comes alive on the pages. Letter-writing, a characteristic of the era in question, is used to great effect.
Eminently readable and very enjoyable, this lively novel brings the past back to vibrant life.
Steven Neil has a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics, a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the Open University and an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University. In his working life he has been a bookmaker’s clerk, management tutor, management consultant, bloodstock agent and racehorse breeder. He is married and lives in rural Northamptonshire.
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