The Ruby in the Smoke


Philip Pullman

Scholastic, 6.99

WITH a big-budget film version of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy scheduled for next year, the BBC has cleverly dusted down the first of Pullman's earlier quartet of novels for their Christmas adaptation. Current flavour of the month actress Billie Piper takes on the role of Sally Lockhart, a feisty orphan who is as accomplished with a pistol as with accountancy.

The Ruby In The Smoke is a homage to the later work of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, and is set in a smoggy, sinister Victorian London, replete with opium addicts, shipping magnates, entrepreneurial photographers and penny dreadful magazines.

Following the death of her father when his schooner sinks in the South China Seas, Sally receives a scrawled warning to beware "The Seven Blessings". When she asks her father's business partner about the phrase, he drops dead, and Sally is plunged into a mire of intrigue and betrayal.

There are kidnappings, identical twins, cryptic clues and shameful secrets, as well as a truly frightening villain, the criminal underworld matriarch, Mrs Holland. Rip-roaring and forward-looking, The Ruby In The Smoke is much more than a test-run for His Dark Materials.

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