Book Review: The Hourglass Factory

Thursday 7 May 2015 by

The Hourglass Factory, Lucy Ribchester, Book, Simon 7 SchustetThe Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester

Published by Simon & Schuster

The suffragette movement is reaching fever pitch but for broke Fleet Street tomboy Frankie George, just getting by in the cut-throat world of newspapers is hard enough. Sent to interview trapeze artist Ebony Diamond, Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly laced acrobat and follows her across London to a Mayfair corset shop that hides more than one dark secret.

Then Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, and Frankie is drawn into a world of tricks, society columnists, corset fetishists, suffragettes and circus freaks. How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory?

From the newsrooms of Fleet Street to the drawing rooms of high society, the missing Ebony Diamond leads Frankie to the trail of a murderous villain with a plot more deadly than anyone could have imagined…


This book first piqued my interest because of the Suffragette storyline. But The Hourglass Factory is more of a mystery novel than a political one, and it reflects that in its swift pacing and the droplets of clues throughout.

For a first novel, there are a few aspects that could have been tightened up; there is a certain lack of suspense, with lots of action and drama with an eagerness to get to the pay off. But the enthusiasm is infectious and you find yourself speeding through the book with relish.

Frankie is not the most compelling protagonist – I found myself drawn to Milly much more – but she is perfectly placed to keep the plot propelling forward and her position as a journalist adds a unique twist to the story.

The interesting part comes from the Suffragettes storyline. Ribchester plays the balance between too much information and just enough: you don’t feel that she is throwing so much information at you that it detracts from the story, but adds enough to sound authoritative and believable. In some respects, I would have loved to know more, but never felt cheated.

The grand reveal, when it comes, is deeply satisfying, with enough shock factor to make it feel worthwhile. But the most satisfying part of the whole novel is the setting. You can almost smell the London streets. It feels almost palpable, leaping from the page. Even better, the streets are familiar and you end up walking the Strand and Fleet Street with them. It’s a London that is home and yet foreign. It is a London that feels at once seedy, magical, dangerous and beautiful.

Overall, it was a light and joyful read, with suitable amounts of peril and humour and authenticity. A good mystery with a dutifully fulfilling outcome, and the joyous writing of a debut novelist with a lot more to give.

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