A FACTORY OF CUNNING

Philippa Stockley, Author . Harcourt $25 (355p) ISBN 978-0-15-101172-8

"Cunning" is an apt word for the plot of Stockley's (The Edge of Pleasure ) intriguing historical novel, set in 18th-century England; "devilishly clever" would be even more appropriate. The truth about any character or event is never what one expects, despite arch foreshadowing, and the reader is unprepared for the shocking denouement, which carries echoes of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and the Grand Guignol. A beautiful 29-year-old Parisian aristocrat arrives in London in 1784, fleeing a scandal and the pursuit of a vengeful victim. On the surface, the penniless woman, who adopts the name Mrs. Fox, makes admirable efforts to establish herself in English society. Sharp-tongued and arrogant, she doesn't hide the fact that during a sojourn in Holland, she was the madam of a whorehouse, or that she is coolly manipulative, or that she is voracious for money. She meets her match in the mysterious Earl Much, a man who oozes malevolence and power. Their battle to the death involves a large cast of Dickensian characters, each one of whom hides his or her true identity. Narrated with wit and sexually provocative detail, the novel portrays London as a pit of licentiousness, amorality, greed and deceit. It's entertaining and suspenseful, and the most monstrous characters are those who wear the facade of moneyed respectability. Agent, David Miller at Rogers, Coleridge, and White (U.K.). (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/07/2005
Release date: 04/01/2005
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 355 pages - 978-0-15-603067-0
Open Ebook - 377 pages - 978-1-4482-0849-4
Hardcover - 377 pages - 978-1-4482-0848-7
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