It’s 1914. Rosemary Gresham has been living on the streets of London since she was eight years old. Her only family is a gang of other orphans who have banded together to look after each other by picking pockets. As the story opens, their thieving expertise has reached the level of museum-heists, and they have gained a level of pseudo-sophistication that allows them to enter the homes of the elite. A shadowy character named Mr. V approaches Rosemary and demands that she spy on a gentleman of German descent in Cornwall. If she complies, her needy “family” will receive a thousand pounds. If she refuses, he will turn her in to the authorities.
Peter Holstein’s grandparents emigrated from Germany sixty years ago, but that doesn’t stop all of the locals in Cornwall from considering him a spy. His stutter and social anxiety confirm the fact in everyone’s mind, and should war break out with Germany, he may face deportation or worse. The only way to prove his loyalty to England is to locate his family’s naturalization papers, and with the overwhelming state of his overcrowded library that will take some doing.
When Rosemary shows up on Mr. Holstein’s doorstep and announces herself as a librarian looking to assist in organization, Peter sees her arrival as a gift from God. As the weeks pass, she contrives to hide her real aims and adjust to his eccentric ways, and a strange friendship develops between the two. Intrigued by his kindness to his servants and his faith in God, she begins to develop a sympathy toward him and a desire to defend him from the abuse of his neighbors. But if Peter Holstein is not a a German spy, then why does he spend all day clicking away on the typewriter in his study? And if he’s not writing letters to the Kaiser, then what exactly is he writing in such a secretive manner?
The premise of this book was a little farfetched, but I still enjoyed it immensely. Rosemary and Peter’s relationship unfolded in a delightful manner, and Peter’s stutter and quirks added a lot of originality to the story. I look forward to seeing the adventures of Rosemary’s “siblings” in the next installment of this series.