CRIMSON AND BONE by Marina Fiorato
On a freezing January night a lone figure steps on to the parapet of Waterloo Bridge, determined to end it all. She is Annie Stride, a penniless prostitute with nothing to live for. She has lost her dearest friend Mary Jane to suicide, been evicted from her home, and has just discovered her pregnancy, a condition which will end her working life. As she falls forward into space, a hand catches at her arm.
Her rescuer is Francis Maybrick Gill, a talented young Pre-Raphaelite artist. Francis takes Annie to his lavish London townhouse and, when she miscarries her child on her first night in his house, nurses her back to health. He begins to teach her how to speak and think as a young lady of quality, showers her with clothes and jewels, and takes her to concerts and plays. Recognising her fabulous beauty Francis makes Annie his muse, and his paintings of her as the fallen women of history transform his fortunes and hers. He exhibits at the Royal Academy and he and Annie become the toast of London, a famous artist and much sought-after model. Nothing, it seems, can touch the golden couple, and Annie’s dark past seems far behind her.
With the coming of summer Francis whisks Annie off to Florence and installs her in the Villa Camellia, his luxurious house in the hills above the city. There she discovers the delights of the Renaissance city, and Francis paints her as Mary Magdalene, the original fallen woman. Living as Francis’s wife, Annie learns more of his dark sexual appetites, but nothing of his history. Yet all seems well until a young colourman comes to the villa to supply Francis with the paints he needs. Annie is drawn to the young man, and they form a friendship of honesty and equality, through which she realises how little she actually knows of her benefactor Francis. The new acquaintance upsets the equilibrium of the villa and dark undercurrents of jealousy emerge, prompting Annie to examine her circumstances. Did Mary Jane really take her own life or was there more to the story? What brings the young colourman to the Villa Camellia, and what is his business with Francis? What takes Francis into Florence every night alone? And what is the significance of the alabaster jar which Francis protects with his life?
A dark and sexual tale spanning Victorian London, Florence and Venice, CRIMSON AND BONE is the story of what happens when love goes wrong.