Van has finished reading…The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis

18 Feb

London, 1763, and experience has taught young Miss Anne Jaccob to hold love in abeyance. Her father is stern and uncaring, her mother beleaguered and she will not soften to her new baby sister as babies have a tendency to quit life too soon. Then butcher’s boy Fub comes to crack the hard shell of Anne’s sheltered life and it’s passion that begins to leak through the gaps. This new-found happiness fills her dour world but their stations in life are so different. How far will Anne go to get what she desires?


Let me start by saying that Mrs Van cooed a good deal over the cover. Some books do seem to beg to be stroked and Janet Ellis’s The Butcher’s Hook is among that number. It is indeed a lovely thing. I would add that Mrs van is currently enjoying what’s between those boards just as much, and you all know she has such very good taste…

What a protagonist we have in Miss Anne Jaccob. It surely wouldn’t be correct to call her a heroine. From the very first page she sets herself apart, works to hold that distance. She is not there to be liked. But as the extenuating circumstances surfaced I couldn’t help but be drawn in, couldn’t help but appreciate her stance. The way circumstance plays with the reader’s perception of Anne is deftly managed: She’s not a nice person; ah, but here’s the mitigation that makes her that way; oh, look what she’s done now; yes, but now see the reasoning behind the action. The fact is that if you can’t engage with an unlikeable protagonist you’re not going to care what happens. It’s testament to the quality of the writing, the control exerted that it’s such a readable book.

The characters are excellently rendered, recognisable to the extent that you might start casting actors for the TV adaptation. It’s in their various movements and modes of speech that this really comes through. From an itinerant Jacobite through to the aptly-monickered Mr Onions (surely a nod to Dickens in the naming), it shifts easily with background and never feels out of place. Janet Ellis displays a keen awareness of language with Anne’s responses to the cast too. There’s a particular lovely (in terms of the language usage) moment of reunion where Anne’s words take on a different hue. It’s no stark change but a subtle undercurrent, a couple of words used, the suggestion of which drew me back to the earlier meeting. It’s really well done.

There’s a real feel for setting, too, not in the layering of detail but in the impression of surroundings, in the atmosphere invoked and most notably in the people that inhabit the pages, the every-day hustle and bustle of grubby London life.

Where this book really shows its strength is in when Janet Ellis chooses to reveal what she does. The pace and the timing are perfect and I’ll wager there’s more than one moment that’ll cause your hand to rise to cover the ‘o’ of your open mouth.


Janet Ellis’s The Butcher’s Hook is a complete package. The settings, the characters, the pace and the action are all tightly controlled. There’s some really nice dry humour in there too, some genuinely funny moments. And the story is like to have you, well, hooked. It’s amazing to think that this is her debut. I loved it. I can’t wait to see what comes next!


The Butcher’s Hook is published by Two Roads on 25th February 2016 ISBN: 9781473625112


You can find Janet Ellis on Twitter @missjanetellis and on her website

With thanks to BookBridgr and Rosie Gailer at Hodder for allowing me to review this book.


2 Responses to “Van has finished reading…The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis”


  1. A Q & A with Janet Ellis, author of The Butcher’s Hook | vanisreading - 29/02/2016

    […] blog tour for Janet Ellis’s compelling debut novel, The Butcher’s Hook (you can read my review here). Janet kindly agreed to answer some questions (I could have provided pages of them but – […]

  2. Van has finished reading… The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin | vanisreading - 03/11/2017

    […] is no different, though like Rebecca Mascull’s excellent Song Of The Sea Maid or Janet Ellis’s The Butcher’s Hook the lesson is hidden very nicely in the sensory detail and the turn of events (though in terms of […]

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