Monday 16 March 2020

BLOG TOUR: The Canary Keeper - Clare Carson

A must-read historical epic, weaving suspense, adventure and romance into an exhilarating thriller. The Canary Keeper is imbued with mythology and storytelling, as well as an atmospheric and encompassing portrait of 1850s Britain.

In the grey mist of the early morning a body is dumped on the shore of the Thames by a boatman in a metal canoe. The city is soon alive with talk of the savage Esquimaux stalking Victorian London and an eye witness who claims the killer had an accomplice: a tall woman dressed in widow’s weeds.

Branna ‘Birdie’ Quinn had no good reason to be by the river that morning, but she did not kill the man. She’d seen him first the day before, desperate to give her a message she refused to hear. But now the Filth will see her hang for this murder.

To save her life, Birdie must trace the dead man’s footsteps. Back onto the ship that carried him to his death, back to cold isles of Orkney that sheltered him, and up to the far north, a harsh and lawless land which holds more answers than she looks to find.

What did I think?

I have previously come across Clare Carson as a mystery and thriller writer of the Sam Coyle trilogy set in Orkney so I was very excited to hear that she had written an historical fiction novel.  We return to Orkney, albeit figuratively, in The Canary Keeper but through Clare Carson's vivid and atmospheric writing it does almost feel as if you are there and I half expected the cold sea wind to whip up my hair whilst I was reading.

The book starts in London with a prologue that sets out events in Birdie's childhood that will go on to change the course of her life.  We then meet Birdie 14 years later as Widow Quinn when she discovers the body of Orkneyman Tobias Skaill on the shore of the Thames which makes her the prime suspect in his murder.  The only way to clear her name is to discover more about Tobias' past so, on the run from the police, Birdie bravely sets sail for Orkney.

As I already knew from her previous writing, Clare Carson can evoke a keen sense of place in her novels but she goes one better in The Canary Keeper; not only transporting her reader to a different place but also to a different time.  I experienced the whole book in three dimensions and had vivid scenes in my mind comprising sights, sounds and smells of the era.

Birdie is such a strong female character in a time when men ruled the world.  When her father died, Birdie was taken under the wing of a benefactor who made sure she had a good education and was given a job as a bookkeeper in a shipping company; all very unusual for a woman of the 19th Century.  Now a young widow, I loved reading about Birdie's burgeoning relationship with policeman, Solly, and loved how she named her creepy parrot after him.  Although slightly unfair to the parrot, I say 'creepy' because all the parrot can say at first is 'skin for a skin' which gave me the chills.

There is so much going on in this book that it really does have everything; crime, thriller, romance, family secrets as well as historical interest.  Clare Carson actually based the book on real historical records but, in adding some amazingly strong female characters, she weaves an intricate and intelligent story filled with treachery and danger.  I was completely riveted from start to finish and loved everything about it.  I do hope Clare Carson writes more historical fiction as The Canary Keeper is nothing short of exceptional.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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About the author:

Clare Carson grew up in the suburbs of London. She studied anthropology at university, and lived for a while in villages in Tanzania and Zimbabwe doing ethnographic research. She has worked as an adviser on human rights and international development for nearly twenty years and has written three novels, all published by Head of Zeus. She lives by the sea in Sussex with her partner, two daughters and a couple of very large cats. 

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