This is the sort of novel which creates a world into which you can sink. It is a story of revenge, cookery and two women in 18th century England, connected by one man. The story of The Penny Heart by Martine Bailey is told by the two women, who cannot be more different. It is about the nature of truth, the passage of time and the difficulty of deciphering the lies hidden within truth.
In 1787 when Mary Jebb is caught playing a confidence trick on a young man, she is sentenced to the colonies. Before she leaves, she sends two pennies, each engraved with a promise, to the two men she blames for her fate. These are the penny hearts. In contrast, virtuous and timid Grace Moore marries handsome Michael Coxon in a property deal arranged by her father and husband. She soon learns that her husband is not what he seems. At the isolated and rundown Delafosse Hall she is lonely but finds a friend in her new cook, Peg.
By halfway through I really didn’t want to put the book down and the last third runs along with an ingenious ending that was impossible to foresee. Whose story to trust? Mary, resourceful and struggling to survive in a world which gives her nothing. Or Grace, who escapes a drunken father and finds herself marooned with an exploitative husband? Will Grace realize Peg is not what she seems? Will Peg’s plans work out? And which facts are true, and which lies? This is not a pretty historical story set in which involves a few recipes. It is a dark story of murder, double-crossing and lies.
Click here to read my review of Bailey’s debut novel, An Appetite for Violets.
‘The Penny Heart’ by Martine Bailey [UK: Hodder & Stoughton] Buy at Amazon
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