Book review: The Double Life of Cora Parry by Angela McAllister

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For the first time in her life, Cora Parry is free.

She won’t have to answer to anyone and she can do exactly as she pleases, but how long will her luck hold out?

McAllister’s atmospheric and colourful teen tale of an abandoned girl caught up in the dark and dangerous underworld of Victorian London packs a thrilling and authentic punch.

A Dickensian-style story plays out against a city of filth, noise, foul-smelling sewers, acrid smoke and mean streets where nobody cares if you live or die.

And amidst all this squalor is a heaving mass of humanity; the hungry, the hopeless, the helpless - and the hard-bitten.

None more so than Fletch, a ruthless street girl who disguises herself as a boy and jealously guards her corner of a damp cellar in the slums of Farthing Court where a sad collection of down-and-outs depend on her for food and protection.

Fourteen-year-old orphan girl Cora was plucked from a workhouse when she was only three and adopted by a kindly schoolmaster and his shrewish wife.

But now they are both dead, Cora’s dreams of running her own life have been shattered and she has ended up under the wing of Fletch who draws her into a life of street crime.

Her only real friends are pawnbroker’s son Joe Tally and his pet monkey Pip but she must hide from them the truth of her dishonest trade.

As Cora’s life of pickpocketing, stealing food and picking locks starts to spiral out of control, her troubled conscience invents another persona for herself.

Carrie, not Cora, is the thief’s apprentice; Carrie protects her from guilt, gives her somewhere safe to hide and allows her to sleep at night.

There’s just one problem...where does Carrie end and Cora begin, which of them is really in control and where will it all end?

McAllister draws a vivid picture of Victorian London – its urgency, energy, clamour and exciting unpredictably – along with a lively cast of memorable characters.

On a psychological level, the cleverly woven themes of struggle, truth, crime and conscience speak loud and clear through the suspense and action.

Gripping and gritty, Cora’s story is a rich slice of Victorian life.

(Orion, paperback, £8.99)