What if there were no coincidences? This isn’t to say that everything happens because of Providence, but what if what we thought were coincidences were in fact carefully arranged events? Until Thaniel Steepleton found an elaborate watch in his curiously un-burgled flat after returning home early from the British Home Office, he thought he was leading a very ordinary life. The closest he gets to adventure are the messages that come in on the telegraph. The day he finds the watch, Thaniel has just received a message from Scotland Yard that a group of Irish separatists are planning a series of bombings in six months’ time. The day Thaniel finds the watch is the day coincidences (or carefully arranged events) change his life forever in Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street.
The watch is a quiet, ticking mystery to Thaniel until it gives off an alarm minutes before a bomb devastates Scotland Yard’s office and almost kills him. He can’t leave it alone, so he finds the maker. Keita Mori lives alone in Knightsbridge—except for a curiously advanced clockwork octopus. There’s nothing to link him to the Fenians, even though pieces of his clockwork were also in the Scotland Yard bomb. Thaniel’s friend in the Yard asks him to keep an eye on Mori. Before long, the pair are friends and Thaniel can’t believe that Mori has done anything to hurt anyone.
Once Thaniel make’s Mori’s acquaintance, his life starts to improve by leaps and bounds. He gets promoted to the foreign office because of his knowledge of Japanese—nonexistent, but the Foreign Office assumes he speaks Japanese because he lodges with Mori. A chance meeting with Arthur Sullivan naps him a gig playing piano in the debut of The Mikado. Thaniel even gets engaged (though its more of a business arrangement to help a bluestocking friend). Coincidence piles up on coincidence as everything falls into place. And Mori is somehow at the heart of it. His advice, though weird, always works in Thaniel’s favor. He always seems to know what’s going to happen next or be in just the right place or know just what to say. Mori’s curiously unchronological diary puzzles Thaniel even more.
If it weren’t for the lingering bombing investigation and Thaniel’s fiance’s suspicions, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street might just be the story of a quirky friendship in almost fin de siècle London. Towards the end of the book, however, Pulley starts demolishing genre expectations left and right. The race to catch a bomb maker becomes a race to prove a man’s innocence, reversing the usual thriller plot. A love story develops in an unexpected source, upending any romantic expectations.
The plot sounds more than a little ridiculous recounting it here, but it all works beautifully. The ending of this book astonished me and had me cheering. I hate to say any more for fear of giving away all the twists. The more I think about it, the more I think I will recommend it by handing a copy to people and saying, “Read this!”
I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 14 July 2015.