The Penmaker's Wife by Steve Robinson
Book Review


In Victorian England, a mother is on the run from her past—and the truth about what she did.

Birmingham, 1880. Angelica Chastain has fled from London with her young son, William. She promises him a better life, far away from the terrors they left behind.

Securing a job as a governess, Angelica captures the attention of wealthy widower Stanley Hampton. Soon they marry and the successful future Angelica envisaged for William starts to fall into place.

But the past will not let Angelica go. As the people in her husband’s circle, once captivated by her charm, begin to question her motives, it becomes clear that forgetting where she came from—and who she ran from—is impossible.

When tragedy threatens to expose her and destroy everything she’s built for herself and William, how far will she go to keep her secrets safe? And when does the love for one’s child tip over into dangerous obsession?

My Thoughts

This is the story of a woman’s obsession with her son and what she does to secure his future. From the start this was a totally engrossing and cleverly plotted novel. I cannot reveal too much without going into spoiler territory. What I can say is that by the end of the book any sympathetic feelings I had towards the main female protagonist had well and truly dissipated.

Angelica Chastain stages a daring and elaborate ruse involving her young son to escape the cruelty of their current situation. The story is revealed via a narrator and alternates between 1896 and the 16 years since 1880, the year that Angelica and her son first arrive in Birmingham and meet the family of the successful penmaker, Stanley Hampton.

At first the identity of the narrator is unknown. When first introduced, I jumped to the wrong conclusion as to who this was. The person shares a very close relationship with Angelica and, because of this, it is easy to assume that their recollection of events is the true one. As the story heads towards its conclusion, the whereabouts of the narrator is revealed, how they were duped and Angelica's ultimate act of betrayal.

At first, Angelica is totally credible, but then the recollections of the narrator and how the events actually unfolded over the years present conflicting views. Not all is as it seems, doubt creeps in and Angelica's actions become more suspect. Towards the end, she reveals the extent of her perfidy. And so having duped both the narrator and the reader, she goes from being a sympathetic character to a loathsome one. Just when you think there are no more twists to come, there is a final one, which makes the ending so satisfying!

If you love mysteries that keep you guessing, mysteries with lots of unexpected plot twists, then I recommend you give this one a try.

I'm excited to see that Steve Robinson's next historical mystery,The Secret Wife, is already out. I'm hoping it's as good if not better than The Penmaker's Wife.


  1. Robinson's Jefferson Tayte series is good too!

  2. This one looks interesting, and the cover is great. I've been curious about his genealogical mysteries, too.

    1. I like the cover as well. I really enjoyed The Penmaker's Wife, so I will try the Jefferson Tayte books.