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The Street Philosopher

Offer me any book featuring almost any war, particularly one about which I know not a thing except the year it started and I will probably pass - having no interest either in the military side, or, even in those figureheads of helpful sacrificial femininity, this time, Florence Nightingale. The latter, thankfully, has not yet featured in Matthew Plimpton's debut novel, The Street Philosopher', the former, however, plays a starring role.

This was just one of many books positioned to appeal to the fans of popular historical fiction on the tables in Waterstones. Yes, the cover piqued my interest, and then the blurb. But mainly the fact that The Street Philosopher is set also in Mid-Victorian Manchester. It also helps that the Victorian era is something upon which Plimpton is an expert - an academic - and he succeeds in presenting a version of that era that does not feel stereotypically staid. He has alternating sections in the book, toing and froing from the Crimea to Manchester, a few years apart from each other - which works well for readers like me who, for this story, want to know 'what happens' or 'what has happened' yet have no desire to wade through half a book of Crimea all at once. There is also the humanity that sits at the core - centred on a stolen sacred work of art, taken during the military action, from the old house of a disgraced tsar. There are also many 'bad' characters, and 'good/noble' characters and then there are even those who are a bit of both, namely Irish war reporter, Richard Cracknell. There is also a love interest for Thomas Kitson, the former art critic cum war reporter cum Street Philosopher of the title. It is a great story.
Yet this book would have benefitted hugely from a thorough and more thoughtful editing. There are far too many sections that do nothing more than constantly 'tell' us what has gone on, or what is going on, when many of these would have been conveyed much more effectively through dramatically 'showing'. There is also the tendency to repeat information in several different ways - which implies a lack of confidence in the reader being able to follow the story for herself with just the right amount.
You see, writers learn far more from reading the work of others!
Yet, at the risk of repeating of myself, it is a great story, entertaining and informative, and will no doubt appeal to a broad base, so much so that it feels like perfect film material - especially with Richard Cracknell portrayed as the broody, unpredictable Heathcliffe type.

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