J.T. Williams has taken two real young people who lived in Georgian London and woven an exciting tale of mystery and danger around them. Elizabeth Sancho’s and Dido Belle’s eyes meet across the crowds at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, where Lizzie’s father was about to be the first black man to play Shakespeare’s Othello in a production by David Garrick. Both girls see a shadowy figure appear to make a chandelier fall and nearly kill Ignatius Sancho. The girls meet up and decide to track down this mysterious figure, becoming involved in the abolitionist movement and the unlawful seizure of Black people from the streets of London to be sent to the Caribbean as slaves.
This is told at pace and the reader is totally caught up in the story, told sometimes in letters, with occasional notes as to where the two are in their deductions. The background of Georgian London is skilfully depicted, with its coffee houses, dirty streets, and areas now populated but then, like Hampstead Heath, real country. There is also the added drama of the theatrical background, with jealous actresses, and a disappearing stagehand. The girls’ background is skilfully portrayed, with Lizzie in particular slowly becoming aware of the part her mother, father and sister Frances are playing in the underground movement the Sons and Daughters of Africa. Belle’s lonely existence in the big house with her grandparents is in great contrast to Lizzie’s busy home where her parents run a tea house, full of noise and political discussion. There are one or two things which do not fit: for example daffodils and roses rarely flower at the same time, and at one point Lizzie is ‘standing as if about to give birth’, which seemed an odd phrase to use.
Lizzie and Belle are very different characters but become firm friends and the story ends on a cliff-hanger as their two families’ joint portrait is stolen on the night of celebration of their victory. A sequel is obviously coming!