The Dazzle of the Light captures life in 1920s in England in a way that few books have – it has no flappers, no bathtub gin, and little jazz. Some might compare it to Peaky Blinders and its set of dysfunctional pre-Depression gangsters, but this is an all-girl gang primed for jewel thievery. The history is well-researched, and the characters are wildly flawed. The end result is a fascinating read, but it peters out at the ending too much for me to be able to give it a stronger grade.
Ruby Mills dreams of escaping her dishwater world. England hasn’t quite recovered from World War I or the Spanish Flu, and she – fascinated by glamour in general, and Hollywood glamour in particular – joins up with a large circle of female thieves, who have dubbed themselves the Forty Thieves. They shoplift and steal luxury items, some of which they fence for clients, some of which they sell for their own benefit.
Harriet Littlemore is the wife-to-be of a Tory MP, and she resents the notion that she’s going to have to give up her reporting job to join the upper classes. Even though she simply reports on society matters, it still gives her an identity outside of the house and her future husband.
Harriet is a witness when Ruby flees the scene of a jewel robbery. Harriet trails her at first, hoping simply to get a story – but soon finds herself fascinated with the young thief. Soon, Ruby sees an opportunity to move up the social ladder and begins to make connections within Harriet’s literary and personal worlds, while Harriet starts to long to make a mark of her own as a thief. But will either woman avoid the slammer?
The Dazzle of the Light works, both historically and as a crime drama, but the pacing is off. The middle compels, but the start is slow and the ending is best described as a kind of shoulder shrug. It could be a far better novel than it is, but as it is, it’s perfectly fine.
Of the two heroines, Ruby is definitely the most interesting. Harriet is one of those dabblers who is looking for excitement; Ruby wants that, and purpose, but her flash and dash make her much more interesting by and large.
The two women attract and repulse one another in equal measure. In that, there’s a thread of homosexuality in Harriet’s obsession with Ruby that gets tragically underexplored. And because the men in the story are paper ciphers, I honestly wished the story had been a queer exploration of Harriet’s feelings.
I liked most of all the detail of the inner workings of the gang. Tragically, the rest of the Forty Thieves don’t have much personality, but the crimes and the places they take in the womens’ lives are interesting.
The Dazzle of the Light is an all right, though not sparkling, little crime caper. Though I did start wishing that the Forty Thieves would steal anything but gloves!
Note: This novel contains multiple, brief references to sexual assault.
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