Book 21 in my challenge to read one book (I haven't read before) a fortnight in 2012 is The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman.
The only work by Pullman I've previously read is the His Dark Materials series, which I loved. The Ruby in the Smoke though, while still great storytelling, is something completely different.
Sally Lockhart's father has drowned at sea, and she receives an anonymous letter mentioning the Seven Blessings. Setting out to find out what the Seven Blessings are, Sally is thrust into a mystery, where her enemy is more dangerous than she can ever imagine.
A mystery set in the Victorian era, The Ruby in the Smoke is a fast paced tale with a twist round every corner - literally. Much of the tale takes place in London, where the streets are narrow and those who succeed know where every alley leads. Vivid descriptions of places including Wapping and other communities along the Thames make you feel as though you are right in the heart of the city.
Sally is a great heroine - clever, tough, imaginative - and could easily be transported to 2012 as a sassy girl detective. Alongside her detecting identity, she's still a young woman trying to make her way in the world by making new friends, and discovering the first feelings of attraction towards handsome photographer Frederick.
Villainous Mrs Holland may be an old woman, downtrodden and poor as a church mouse, but she's terrifying all the same, and a great villain for Sally to do battle against.
The Ruby in the Smoke is an intriguing story, and one that will keep you guessing with its intricate plot, characters full of depth and the picture it creates of Victorian London.