One of the best novels I’ve read so far this year!
‘By morning, the news was all around the town that a stranger had arrived with a fortune in his pocket.’
New York, Manhattan Island, November 1746. A handsome young man from London, Mr Smith, arrives with a bill of exchange to the value of £1,000. The bill is to be honoured – within 60 days – by Gregory Lovell, a merchant in Golden Hill Street, who owes this amount to the London company who wrote the bill. It’s an enormous amount, and everyone in the town is interested in trying to learn more about Mr Smith. Just who is this mysterious Mr Smith, and what does he intend to do with his fortune? Where did he come from? Is the bill genuine? Mr Smith has to wait 60 days for his bill to be honoured: how will he fit into New York society during that period? Will the merchants accept him; will they extend him credit? Who will befriend him?
Every chapter provides an element of surprise, a twist which has the reader wondering what will happen next. First there are the various adventures of Mr Smith, as well as the question as to how the bill was to be honoured given the scarcity of cash. And then, just to complicate matters further, there’s a question over the validity of the bill. Mr Smith’s circumstances are fluid to say the least.
Read this novel: enter the eighteenth century with its coffee shops and stratified society, enter a tale (or two) of derring-do, and wonder until the end whether our hero will survive, who he might be and what he is about. To say more could spoil the read.
I enjoyed this novel, it’s both clever and entertaining. While the ending came as a surprise, it is fitting as well as mostly satisfying. Only mostly satisfying? Well, some of the characters were still living on in my mind and I wanted to keep reading, to know what happened next.
This is Mr Spufford’s first novel. I’ve read two of his books of non-fiction and thoroughly enjoyed them.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Faber & Faber Ltd. for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.