Holman, a 33-year-old American-born writer, has crafted a remarkable historical thriller set in England at the outbreak of the 1831 cholera epidemic. In this Dickensian tale, the unlikely 15-year-old heroine, Gus-tine, is a "dress lodger"—a prostitute who rents an expensive gown from a pimp hoping she'll attract rich clients. Kept under surveillance by a malevolent hag, Gustine must also fend off a grave-robbing surgeon who views her baby, j born with a rare physical defect, as a science project.
In an exploration of class conflict that resonates even today, Holman conjures up the teeming back alleys of a long-ago time and place, giving us a dazzling narrative that pulses with irony, ribald humor and heartbreaking tragedy. (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24)
Bottom Line: Well-wrought novel of mother love in a time of cholera