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Sunday 28 April 2019

‘The Blue’ by Nancy Bilyeau

Published by Endeavour Quill,
3 December 2018. 
ISBN: 978-1-911445-62-3 (PB)

Some crime novels do exactly what it says on the tin – they chart the progress of a crime and its detection. Others do a little more.

Or in the case of The Blue, a lot more. Not only does this colourful tapestry of a book delve into the murky depths of industrial espionage and the lengths some people will go to discover secrets; it also delivers the best kind of history lesson: the kind that lets you absorb little details you never knew you were interested in until they came wrapped in a good story.

It's a novel to be savoured, read in small bites, rather than the kind of page-turner that keeps you up well beyond bedtime. And it's all the better for it; it paints a rich, detailed picture of a small slice of history, and left me wanting to go away and explore it further. It's set in the London, Derby and Paris of the 18th century, when Protestants and Catholics were at loggerheads all over Europe, Bonnie Price Charlie's assault on the English throne was within living memory and fine porcelain was as valuable and desirable as gold.

It was also a time when the place of women in society was governed by strict conventions. Feisty Genevieve Planché, the Huguenot protagonist and narrator, is a talented artist, and yearns for proper training in the skills she needs, but the closest she will ever come to art is decorating silk for rich women's gowns and porcelain for their tables, because in this era women are regarded as poor creatures who lack the creative depth to become artists.   

It is the world of porcelain that Genevieve is drawn into, by the charming Sir Gabriel Courtenay, who turns out to be involved in something rather less charming. The porcelain factory at Derby is developing a shade of blue which is coveted by other manufacturers, and Sir Gabriel has a vested interest...

A vividly drawn cast of characters, an almost tactile background of factory, middle-class home and less than salubrious town all contribute to Genevieve's education as she tries desperately to balance her own high principles with Sir Gabriel's threats and demands. Her increasingly tense quest to fulfil her own destiny and do the right thing by everyone is subtly seasoned with exquisite nuggets of historical detail, culminating in – well, read it for yourself. I strongly recommend you do.  
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Nancy Bilyeau was born in Chicago and grew up in Michigan. Nancy Bilyeau's trilogy of historical thrillers set in Tudor England have won awards and been published in more than nine countries. The protagonist, a Catholic novice named Joanna Stafford, is a woman caught in the crosswinds of time, struggling to survive and protect those she loves in the most dangerous years of the reign of Henry VIII. Nancy is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping, and is currently the executive editor of DuJour.  Her debut novel, The Crown, took five years of research into Tudor England, including traveling to London and Dartford, in Kent, to find the ruins of its lost priory of the Dominican Order.  She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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