Velvet by Mary Hooper (September 2011, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, ISBN: 0747599211)
Review: Velvet is the latest historical novel from Mary Hooper and is set at the beginning of the 20th century. The eponymous young lady at the heart of the novel, the independent Velvet (born Kitty) is struggling to keep herself afloat financially. She is about to lose her job at the laundry but her boss gives her one more chance in a more specialist part of the business - looking after individual clients' laundry. In this way Velvet gets to do the personal laundry of one Madame Savoya, a medium of some renown and eventually Velvet ends up as a live-in maid to Madame along with the handsome chauffeur/assistant George.
Velvet's story is inter-cut with a third-person point of view, narrating the various one-to one meetings that Madame and George have with bereaved customers who want a longer chat with their dead loved ones than the general seances can provide.
It becomes obvious to the reader how much truth lies behind Madame's skill and the tension is created by the watching and waiting for Velvet to catch up with the reader.
I thoroughly enjoyed Velvet. It tells of a fascinating time when Spiritualism was all the rage and Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, a famous believer and debunker of fakes, makes an appearance. Velvet is a believable if naive character and you are rooting for her to do the right thing(s). I love how historical novels painlessly teach the reader something and Velvet is no exception, with for example - a visit to a baby-farm which was horrendously portrayed and yet I understand that the author has toned it down somewhat for the YA market.
Velvet is a real page-turner and I flew through it. If like me, you are a bit wary of historical fiction, I'd strongly recommend giving Velvet a go and let it put any prejudices you may have had in the dustbin!