Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 24, 2012

The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer (2012), by Edwina Preston

The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer is seriously good fun.  It took me a little while to get into it, but from about page 50 onwards I couldn’t put it down.

Consciously modelled on the great Victorian novelists Dickens, Thackeray and Fielding,  The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer is a lively mystery with a social heart.  Ivorie Hammer, you see, is a lady of some pretensions, handicapped by not knowing her social origins.  Her inheritance might not be what she thinks it is …

The story begins high on a mountaintop in a place called Canyon where brothers Arcadia and Otto Cirque arrive with their travelling circus Saturnalia.  Sensing a business opportunity, the Madam of nearby Pitch sends some of her – a-hem – ‘girls’ up the mountain, where business indeed turns out to be brisk.

One might think such girls would know better, but one of them loses her heart to the flamboyant but heartless Arcadia, and it is Otto, the (literally) silent one, who has to pick up the pieces.  Quite how this happens is the heart of a mystery that involves assorted deaths, disappearances, scandals, contortions and contrivances to rival anything you’ll find in Dickens, and yes, there is a stellar cast of unforgettable characters as well.

Like Dickens, Preston is exposing serious issues alongside her playful story.  She explores distinctions between legal and honorable.  (As in Dickens, the Law is an Ass).  She is interested in identity, belonging and otherness.   I could not help but think of contemporary refugee issues as the populace of Canyon are grudgingly relocated to an abandoned lumber yard in Pitch after their town was devastated by a ferocious storm:

This was the site that the authorities informed them, gruffly, without much cheer: it was here on this large square of ground (rather like a playing field) that they might camp.  For the time being.  Until better arrangements were made.  Senior Sergeant Starlight had given them matches and several kerosene lamps.  A stream ran down from the mountains, providing their needs in respect of water, and there was plenty of damp kindling and logs.

Otherwise it was not a bad plot of ground at all – a little marshy in places, but flat enough for camping.  What’s more, it contained three spare grey structures – they could not be called buildings, for two of them had no walls as such, just roofs, supported on poles, and the third looked more tumbledown than intact.

‘Shelter is shelter!’ Borrel Sweetley said, sounding bright, but looking glum as he watched the first tarpaulin being stripped back and crates being shunted from cart to person to ground. (p94)

Fortunately for very pregnant Ivorie, she makes the acquaintance of Mrs Po and is delivered of her curious baby in hospital, but there is treachery and betrayal in store for her, not least from the Misses Starlight whose friendship she craves.  They are prepared to bestow it only because she is a better class of person than her dubious fellows from Canyon, indeed, surely, her mysterious origins must lie in Pitch, must they not?

Highly recommended!

Author: Edwina Preston
Title: The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer
Publisher: UQP (University of Queensland Press) 2012
ISBN: 97807022492
Source: review copy courtesy of UQP.

Fishpond:The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer

Or direct from UQP: The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer

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