I like my own book, The Truth About Verity Sparks, very much. Is it wrong to say so? It’s just that, since I wrote it myself, I was able to include all the kinds of story elements that I love. A young milliner with a mysterious past and a supernatural gift in a world of spiritualism and seances, eccentric friends and dastardly villains, bustles and carriages and foggy, gaslit streets.
If you like those kinds of things too, then A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama will be right up your alley. It’s absolutely my kind of children’s book; after reading it, I felt I could tick off all the elements I love and get a perfect score.
It’s 1909, and Maud Flynn is an inmate of the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans which is somewhere near Boston in the USA. She’s eleven years old, small for her age, clever and defiant and  – according to the Superintendent, Miss Kitteridge, not the sort of little girl that anyone would want to adopt. But she’s wrong. She’s exactly what Miss Hyancinth Hawthorne is looking for. Maud loses her heart to the enchanting Hyacinth, and she’s overjoyed when she goes to live with her, her sisters and their rough but kindly servant, Mufflet. But  – of course – all is not as it seems. (How I love those words!)
Hyacinth and her sisters Victoria and Judith make their money as mediums, providing false comfort to the grief-stricken by providing carefully staged seances. Maud is a valuable asset for the family business; she can hide in small spaces or under the table in order to provide ghostly sound effects. Which she does, willingly, because it seems a small price to pay for such a good home. Besides, Maud would do anything for Hyacinth. But soon the trickery escalates. With five thousand dollars at stake, they all travel to Hyacinth’s seaside cottage at Cape Calypso where Maud is kept inside, hidden, while Hyacinth perfects her plan to fleece the rich Mrs Lambert. Maud is being prepared to impersonate Mrs Lambert’s drowned daughter, Caroline…
Maud is a feisty, complex character; Hyacinth is a fascinating, manipulative, amoral villainess and the unfamiliar (to me) setting in 1900s America added a bit of extra interest to the ‘gaslight’ scene. My only criticism is the cover. I’m sure it’s a lovely painting, and the subject matter is perfectly appropriate, but it lacks punch.

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