Wednesday 13 September 2023

The Unpicking by Donna Moore #TheUnpicking @BadsvilleBroad @fly_press #BookReview #HistoricalFiction


"I had read enough mystery stories to know that girls who went out to meet strangers at night never came to a good end..."

Stirling, 1877. Lillias Gilfillan, a recently orphaned girl of sixteen, falls in love and elopes with a man who sees her as wealthy and naïve: ‘a little boat without its oars’. In a sea of rising debt and deception, Lillias must learn quickly, or drown.

Glasgow, 1894. Clementina knows little mercy living in a home for ‘wayward girls’. With the ‘Jingling Devil’ always lurking in the shadows and a child growing inside her, can she outrun him and save her best friend in the process?

Glasgow, 1919. Mabel is one of the first policewomen in Glasgow, on a mission to find a murderer. In doing so, she finds a web of corruption and now the ‘Jingling Devil’ wants her dead.

‘The Unpicking’ spans three generations of ‘hysterical women’ who take on systemic corruption and injustice, despite all odds.

The Unpicking by Donna Moore is published by Fly On The Wall Press on 27 October 2023. My thanks to the author who sent my copy for review. 

I have been absolutely captivated by this beautifully imagined piece of historical fiction that concentrates on three women between 1877 and 1919. It is set in Glagow, a place that becomes another important character in the story. It really is a extraordinary story, often bleak and brutal, and never flinching from the corruption and injustices that women of that time endured, and lets face it, still do at times. 

In 1877 sixteen-year-old Lillias Gilfillan is recently orphaned and now extremely wealthy. Young, innocent and impressionable, she is swept off her feet by an older man who appears to be loving and kind. However, after a quick wedding, opposed by her Aunt, Lillias discovers far too quickly that it wasn't her looks or personality that was the attraction, but her bank balance. Urged on by a callous and greedy associate, her husband does the unthinkable, and Lillias faces a life that she could never have imagined. 

Seventeen years later, we meet Clemintina who lives in a home for 'wayward girls' in Glasgow. Clemmie is kind at heart, always looking out for her best friend; the young, shy Jeannie. However, both of them are targets of the 'Jingling Devil'; a man who causes pain and terror on behalf of some of the most wealthy men in the city. Clemmie needs to escape, to protect her unborn child, but how can she leave Jeannie?

Moving on another twenty-five years and Mabel is one of the first female police officers in the city. Scorned by her colleagues, expected to do little more than a secretarial role, she is determined to track down a murderer. However, she finds out far more than expected and once again, the Jingling Devil makes an appearance. 

Three wonderfully created female characters that readers will instantly connect with. Their daily battles against social injustices and the utter corruption of the wealthy are difficult to bear at times, emotionally challenging but always perfectly and sensitively created. 

The streets of Glasgow, with the assorted characters, and the sights and sounds come alive, and almost jump from the pages. The fear felt by each of the women, yet their incredible bravery and determination is visceral and so thought provoking. These are some of the best characters that I have met in a novel, alongside the alluring, descriptive writing and remarkable sense of place.  

A truly wonderful novel. Highly recommended by me. 

Donna Moore is the author of crime fiction and historical fiction. 

Her first novel, a Private Eye spoof called Go To Helena Handbasket, won the Lefty Award for most humorous crime fiction novel and her second novel, Old Dogs, was shortlisted for both the Lefty and Last Laugh Awards. 

Her short stories have been published in various anthologies. 

In her day job she works as an adult literacy tutor for marginalised and vulnerable women, facilitates creative writing workshops and has a PhD in creative writing around women’s history and gender-based violence. 

She is also co-host of the CrimeFest crime fiction convention and is a fan of film noir, 1970s punk rock and German Expressionist artists. 

The Unpicking is her third novel.

X @BadsvilleBroad

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