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Book Review: The Mesmerist by Barbara Ewing


The Mesmerist by Barbara Ewing

Barbara Ewing is a consummate writer and she spins a tale of love, hate, murder and mayhem, set in early nineteenth-century London in her fifth novel, The Mesmerist. Admittedly I was put off by the title of the book as I have no interest in mesmerism or hypnotism, but once starting the book I was instantly hooked. Ageing actresses Cordelia and Rillie realise they need to find other work when their roles of witches in MacBeth are replaced by an elephant. They set themselves up in business with Cordelia emerging as ‘Lady Preno-Mesmerist’. In her candle-lit basement she practises mesmerism, advising people on marriage, and the ‘gentle intricacies’ of the wedding night. Fortune smiles on them, but Cordelia is haunted by a long-buried sadness. When murder occurs, scandalous secrets spectacularly become public in a crowded coroner’s court.

The Mesmerist is a beautifully written book that is well-researched and evokes the sights, smells and sounds of the Victorian theatre. It is peopled by gutsy characters that you really care for. The plot smoulders in the opening chapters before bursting into roaring flames at the end. Alternating between tragedy and comedy, this is a rollicking romp of a read that has left me hungry for more from this first-class author.

#bookreviews #historicalfiction

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