Excerpt from The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

by Natasha Pulley

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley X
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2015, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sharry Wright
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part one

The home office telegraphy department always smelled of tea. The source was one packet of Lipton's at the back of Nathaniel Steepleton's desk drawer. Before the widespread use of the electric telegraph, the office had been a broom cupboard. Thaniel had heard more than once that its failure to expand was a sign of the Home Secretary's continuing mistrust of naval inventions, but even if that wasn't the case, the departmental budget had never stretched to the replacement of the original carpet, which liked to keep the ghosts of old smells. Besides Thaniel's modern tea, there was cleaning salt and hessian, and sometimes varnish, though nobody had varnished anything there for years. Now, instead of brooms and brushes, there were twelve telegraphs lined up on a long desk. Three to an operator during the day, each wired to separate places within and without Whitehall, and labelled accordingly in the thin handwriting of a forgotten clerk. Tonight all twelve machines were silent. Between six and midnight, one operator stayed in the office to catch urgent messages, but after working at Whitehall for three years, Thaniel had never seen anything come through after eight. Once, there had been a strange, meaningless percussion from the Foreign Office, but that had been an accident: somebody had sat on the machine at the other end of the wire. Sat and bounced. He had taken care not to ask about it.

Thaniel shifted stiffly and turned himself to the left of his chair rather than the right, and slid his book along the desk. The wires from the telegraphs were threaded through holes in the desk and then down into the floor, leaving all twelve trailing just where the knees of the operators should have been. The senior clerk liked to complain that sitting sideways made them look like society girls learning to ride, but he complained more if a wire snapped: they were expensive to replace. From the telegraphy room, they ran down through the building and spidered out all over Westminster. One went across the wall to the Foreign Office, one to the telegraph room at the Houses of Parliament. Two joined the clusters of wires strung along the street until they reached the post office headquarters at St Martin's Le Grand. The others wired direct to the Home Secretary's own house, Scotland Yard, the India Office, the Admiralty, and other sub-departments. Some of them were pointless because it would have been faster to lean out of the main office window and shout, but the senior clerk said that would have been ungentlemanly.

Thaniel's watch ticked around to quarter past ten with its crooked minute hand that always stuck a bit over the twelve. Tea time. He saved tea for the nights. It had been dark since late afternoon and now, the office was so cold that his breath was showing and there was condensation on the brass telegraph keys. Having something hot to look forward to was important. He took out the Lipton's, put the box diagonally in his cup and yesterday's Illustrated London News under his elbow, and made his way to the iron staircase. As he went down, it clanged in a bright yellow D sharp. He couldn't say why D sharp was yellow. Other notes had their own colours. It had been useful when he still played the piano because whenever he went wrong, the sound turned brown. This sound-seeing was something he had always kept to himself. Yellow stairs made him sound mad and, contrary to the opinions of the Illustrated News, it was frowned upon for Her Majesty's Government to employ the demonstrably insane.

The big stove in the canteen was never cold, the embers of old fires having no time to die completely between the civil service's late evenings and early mornings. When he stirred over the coals, they came to life with a shimmer. He stood with the small of his back against a table while he waited for the water to boil, watching his own warped reflection in the bronze kettle. It made him look much warmer than his real colours, which were mainly grey. The newspaper crackled in the deep quiet when he opened it. He had hoped for some kind of interesting military cock-up, but there was only an article about Mr Parnell's latest speech in Parliament. He tilted his nose down into his scarf. With a bit of effort he could stretch out tea-making into fifteen minutes, which was an appreciable chip out of one of the eight hours he had left, but there wasn't much to be done about the other seven. It was easier when his book wasn't boring and when the newspapers had something better to do than look askance at Irish pushings for independence, as though Clan na Gael had not spent the last few years throwing bombs into the windows of government buildings.

Excerpted from The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. Copyright © 2015 by Natasha Pulley. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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