(Harper Collins, 2020)
By Kristy Manning
How can a heart be full of both sorrow and joy?
That’s the salient question at the core of this finely crafted historical novel by Kristy Manning. An ambitious undertaking, The Lost Jewels spans some four hundred years between 17th century London and modern day Boston. It features two strong female characters, Essie Murphy in the early 19th century, and Kate Kirby, present day jewelry historian.
Essie is Kate’s Irish great grandmother. Submerged in grinding poverty in 1900s London, Essie leaves London for Boston as a young woman, never to return. An unknown tragedy dogs her steps. Essie plans to reveal her full story to Kate after her great granddaughter turns eighteen, but dies before she can do so.
Reeling from her own personal tragedy and recently unraveled marriage, Kate is on the trail of what may be the story of the century. On assignment in London to look into a new collection of unusual jewels, Kate decides to focus on one particular item in the museum collection: A small black and white diamond solitaire that began its life in India. She wends her way back some four hundred years to Cheapside, London, and a vast cache of priceless jewels unearthed by construction workers in the early 20th century. In the process, Kate discovers family treasure and unravels secrets she never suspected.
Based on a True Story
Tightly written, this fascinating, compelling read is based on the true story of the Cheapside Hoard. One of the most famous caches of jewels in the world, the Hoard was dug up in a Cheapside cellar in 1912. No one really knows how, who, or why it wound up in a Cheapside cellar. Why has no one ever claimed it? The Lost Jewels is a rousing, robust imaginary tale that attempts to connect those dots.
The plot is clever and lithe. Briskly paced, it includes European gem stone merchants traveling through Asia and Persia. Suffragettes. Beauty is truth, truth beauty (Keats). “Stony Jack.” Love and loss. Loyalty and betrayal. Murder. Mystery. Power and sacrifice. Undergirding the art and mystery story arc is a tale of sacrificial sisterly love that could fill the Atlantic and shine like “sapphires to match your eyes.”
A rich, full-bodied story overall, The Lost Jewels is a fine read with one caveat: An odd anti-Catholic hostility roils throughout the narrative. (I’m not Catholic. But it’s jarring nonetheless.)
Beyond that, meticulous research is evident in the crafting of this tale. The author also pulls all the details together in a satisfying conclusion, dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts. By the last page readers understand how the greatest treasures can’t be seen by the human eye, and how it’s possible to carry both joy and sorrow in the same heart. Like:
“Who’d have thought a buried bucket of jewels would unearth your own family tale of heartbreak, loss, and crazy big-hearted love.”
Check your hems, mo stoirin.
Our rating: 4.0
For further reading:
Cheapside Hoard photo: Museum of London.