Curiosity is a dangerous thing—especially when it’s coupled with amorality as it is in Janet Ellis’s The Butcher’s Hook. Anne Jaccob is the oldest daughter of an overbearing father and a mother worn out from childbirth and miscarriage. She’s mostly been left to her own devices up until now. But now that she’s nineteen, her father decides that she’s old enough to marry a rich man. And this is where the mayhem begins.
Anne fell in lust as soon as she laid eyes on the family butcher’s apprentice, Fub. She makes up all kinds of stories to spend time with him at the shop while fending off the attentions of Mr. Onions, the man her father wants her to marry. For most of the book, I thought I was reading a romance novel with pretentions to being literary historical fiction. There is a ton of detail about mid-eighteenth century London where middle to upper class meets the lower to middle class. Mostly, it’s smells and filth.
What makes The Butcher’s Hook something else entirely is the fact that Anne is constantly learning while she makes time with Fub. She learned how to turn something living into something dead. Because of her sense of entitlement and lack of morality, Anne is not afraid to try those lessons out on something that’s not a cow or a pig. To be honest, I had no idea what I was in for when I started this book.
I know that some readers will have a problem with this book simply because Anne is so unlikeable. I didn’t. I’m okay with unlikeable characters as long as there’s something else to hold me in the story. Here, what kept me in the book was watching Anne twist between her lack of moral boundaries and the boundaries imposed on her by her father. No matter what she does, she just can’t seem to get free of the man. And because she can’t get free of Mr. Jaccob, she can’t get free of Mr. Onions. They’re too prominent to kill. Without their support, she’d be homeless and hungry. In spite of this, Anne is killing people who get in her way. I stuck around just to see what would happen.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 10 January 2017.