Philip Pullman: The Ruby in the Smoke

April 4, 2022

     Philip Pullman has written a series of mystery/detective stories featuring a young woman – Sally Lockheart – as the heroine, set roughly in the Sherlockian/ Victorian London of the late nineteenth century; I’ve read some of them and had been intending to revisit them when my hand was forced, by the absence of my library during our recent house move. As with the His Dark Materials trilogy, there’s both the sense that the novel is written for a young adult readership, and also the feeling that Pullman writes for everyone and for all time, if I may put it like that; I certainly didn’t feel excluded.

We’re thrown in at the deep end, and Pullman quickly shows how he can create a sense of mystery, and speedily develop real characters with whom we can empathise. It’s a fast-paced yarn, that develops well – no surprises there, then, given the writer’s pedigree – and various political and social messages and moral lessons are also woven in as the plot progresses, linking in to behaviour and attitudes, but even more into the idea of trusting oneself and believing in oneself.

There is the sense of a debt to Conan Doyle, perhaps particularly in the way that children and young people assist the hero in her quest (in the vein of the famous Baker Street Irregulars), but here, while the hero of the story is female, the villain is a particularly vicious and nasty woman, too. There are echoes of The Sign of Four, too. Plenty of excitement, tension and suspense here, although there was a bit of a deus ex machina moment in the denouement which I found a trifle disappointing. Overall, though, a superb story which gripped me thoroughly, and I’ll be looking out for the rest of the series some time soon.

One Response to “Philip Pullman: The Ruby in the Smoke”


  1. […]      This is another of the four Sally Lockheart novels, detective stories of a sort, set in the late nineteenth century. It’s clearly a tribute to Sherlock Holmes in some ways, in terms of time and place, and there is also a gang of helpful street children clearly modelled on the Baker Street Irregulars. There are also links to an earlier novel in the series, The Ruby in the Smoke. […]

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