The Ruby in the Smoke (Sally Lockhart Mystery #1) by Phillip Pullman
Veronica “Sally” Lockhart’s father has just passed away. Her father had traveled to China to look into some of his accounts there as he felt something fishy was going down and wanted to speak to a Van Eeden for help. The ship went down and sixteen year old Sally finds herself at loose ends. She has to stay with a distant relative Aunt Rees, who hates her.
She then receives an anonymous note about the “seven blessings”. She heads over to her father’s former shipping agency to speak to his partner Selby, but he is out and she has to talk to Mr. Higgs. She asks him about the seven blessings and he has a heart attack dying of fright.
She mets Jim Harper, boy messenger, who was listening in. He thinks Higgs knew something and was doing something shady. He agrees to help her and keeps the real story secret along with having his eyes and ears open to anything and everything in the office.
What are the Seven blessings? It must be something horrible if it can cause a heart attack.
Meanwhile a mean cruel hag has been blackmailing a Mr. Marchbanks, former Major in the military. She finally has what she wants, but then Mr. Marchbanks does a switch on her. He spots Sally’s name in the newspaper and knows he must contact her.
Sally returns “home” (as it is no real home) and she receives a letter from Mr. Marchbanks asking her to visit as he has information for her. She thinks it might be about the Seven Blessings and heads over there.
Meanwhile, a sailor, Matthew Bedlam, groggy from sealife and opium has come to London. He is searching for Sally as he has a message from her father but has to stop and stay somewhere, he cannot go any further. He stops at the hag’s boarding house, and when she overhears some of his words-imprisons him upstairs to get more info. She’s never one to pass on an opportunity.
Sally goes to Marchbanks, but gets lost and has to ask a handsome photographer for help. He points the way saying that he did the same not too long ago for an old witch.
Sally arrives at the house and Marchbanks is scared stiff. Mr. Marchbanks is freaking out as doesn’t want “her” to find Sally so he gives her a diary that is coming apart and says it rightfully belongs to her.
Mrs. Holland is angry that the ruby that was promised to her is no longer in the bank. She is harassing Machbanks, and when she finds out he is giving it away, she murders him and heads after Sally.
Sally hides out in Fredrick’s photography tent, and he helps her. He wants to ride with her on the train to potect her, but she declines taking his card instead. On the train she starts to read the diary-an account of when Major Marchbanks served in India along with her father. She starts to read the story, but falls asleep. When she wakes up, she discovers the diary has been stolen! The only thing left is a note to find “it”, but what?
Sally goes home and is berated by Aunt Rees. That night Mrs. Holland sends a man to pinch any papers from Sally. He doesn’t find what they are looking for but does steal her gun. He goes to deliver it to Mrs. Holland, but is murdered.
Sally wakes the next morning and knows her belongings have been riffled through and things are missing. Her aunt accuses her of lying and Sally decides to leave.
She has nowhere to go and ends up in Fredrick Garland’s house living with him and his sister Rose and their assistant Trembler. Sally has no “skills” useful for woman’s job, but has an affinity for numbers and business and helps the Garland photography studio start making money.
Meanwhile, Matthew has begged Adelaide, Mrs. Holland’s servant girl to contact Sally Lockhart and she heads to the shipping agency. There she runs into Jim and gives him her information.
Jim contacts Sally and they search for Matthew’s minister brother, Nicholas. They are twins and Nicholas has been waiting for his brother to return. He goes with Fredrick to find him and bring him home. After a tussle with Mr. Berry (Mrs. Holland’s muscle) and Mrs. Holland they bring Matthew back. After a long wait Matthew reveals that Sally’s father was murdered. There is a gang called the Seven Blessings, a part of the Triads, and run by the terrible pirate Ah Ling. They didn’t want her father to reveal what they were doing, smuggling opium, and murdered him and the whole ship. Matthew barely escaped.
Meanwhile, when buying opium for Matthew, Sally went under and was affected by the opium. She had the nightmare, the same one she is always affected by. Something about India, Marchbanks and her father. It turns out to be a memory but what does it mean?
So Sally has two adversaries and three mysteries. Where is the item Major Marchbanks wanted, the Ruby?
What happened in India when she was a child?
Who is this mysterious man that killed her father? Will she be able to figure it out before the killer strikes again?
Thoughts After Reading:
This was an extremely intriguing mystery with a lot of fun characters. I enjoyed every page of it, and who Ah Ling turned out to be was a great twist!
For more historical fiction, go to Child of the Mist
For more Young Adult Fiction, go to Paper Valentine