Friday, February 17, 2012

Read This: The Ruby in the Smoke

The Ruby in the Smoke
by Phillip Pulman

The Short Story
Sally Lockhart is left all alone in Victorian England when her father mysteriously dies on a business trip. Soon she's getting strange letters hinting that there may be more to her dad's death and that she could be in danger. Also, opium and a ruby. An entertaining, unpredictable read.

Come for the....
mystery! This is my first book that could actually be classified as a straight-up mystery, and I really enjoyed it. There are just enough details that I was interested in Sally (she does accounting!) but there isn't so much given away that I could figure out the ending. Sally gets bits and pieces of information, sees people inexplicably die, and meets characters who could just be nice people, or actually out to get her. I could always understand what was going on, but I could never guess what would happen next. That made for a fun, fast read.

Besides being my first mystery, this was also my first Phillip Pullman book. I'd shied away from his stuff for various reasons, but I have to say he really has a way with words. The "villian" has moments of being hilarious and terrifying, which I thought was an interesting balance. At one point she's described as swearing fluently for several minutes without repeating herself. With everything going on at that point in the book it was just so unexpectedly funny. The descriptions and characterizations were just right - not too much information, but memorable. It makes me want to look into more of Pullman's books.

Stay for the
quirky cast of characters; a Victorian setting done right; an ending that wraps some things up but leaves just enough unanswered; the companion books.

Don't Think About This Too Hard
  • Most of the action happens around Sally, or to her friends, until near the end of the book. She's less involved in the story than I might have expected.
  • There's a fair amount of opium usage in the book.

The Big Three:
Language: a couple of more minor profanities
Sex and Stuff: not an issue
Violence: quite a bit, including shootings, stabbings, fist fights, etc.


  1. O I like the sound of this one. Great review. Thanks for putting this on my radar.

    1. Thanks! It's an older book (mid 90's, maybe?). I'd never heard of it until it was the pick for my book club. It's really a fun read.

  2. I haven't really explored the realms of mystery books as yet. I'm not sure if it's really my kind of thing, but this one sounds like one I might enjoy.

    1. I'd never read mystery before this, although I'm not sure why. I love it when books have little things you have to try to figure out. Even if the mystery is less your thing, there are some great characters.