The Ruby in the Smoke

The Ruby in the Smoke

Infobox Book |
name = The Ruby in the Smoke
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = A recent edition of "Ruby in the Smoke" with Billie Piper on the cover
author = Philip Pullman
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United Kingdom
language = English
series = Sally Lockhart series
subject =
genre = Mystery, Young adult novel
publisher = Oxford University Press
release_date = 1985
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 200 pp
isbn = ISBN 0192715437
preceded_by =
followed_by = The Shadow in the North

"The Ruby in the Smoke" (1985) is a novel by the English author Philip Pullman. It was also adapted for television in 2006.

Plot Summary

This is the first of four mystery novels involving 16 year old heroine Sally Lockhart. Set in 19th century England, we are introduced to the main characters and several continuing story lines. Sally's father has died so she moves in with a distant aunt, Mrs Rees. She receives a letter warning her to beware of the Seven Blessings. After Sally begins to investigate the letter, she learns that she is in danger. A Mrs. Holland attempts to steal the book from Sally, and threaten anyone who comes to her aid. Sally is befriended by a young photographer, Frederick Garland, and his sister. It is they who provide Sally friendship, a home and employment, while she investigates the book and Mrs. Holland. Several people are murdered, and the lives of Sally and her friends appear in danger. She learns about Britain's role in the opium trade, and the identity of her father. There are side plots about a young girl Adelaide, who is held captive by Mrs. Holland. At the end of this book, Adelaide's whereabouts are unknown, but it is assumed that she is alive. Another story line is the solvency of Garland's photography business, and whether Sally and friends will continue to have a home.


Sally Lockhart is a newly orphaned sixteen year old in October 1872, after her father drowns on the "Lavinia". He was a joint owner of the shipping firm of Lockhart & Selby, and voyaged to Singapore to inspect the firm's tradings. Sally is forced to stay with her distant aunt, Mrs Rees. She receives a cryptic, badly-spelled letter warning her to beware of the Seven Blessings, a phrase she does not understand.

To discern the letters meaning, Sally visits her father's office and questions the firm's secretary, Mr Higgs. He falls to the floor, and dies of a heart attack immediately. This fuels Sally's curiosity, and she shows the letter to a friendly office-boy, Jim Taylor, a scruffy thirteen-year-old with a penchant for sensationalist writing. He becomes enamored with the mystery, promising to find out all he can.

Sally receives another letter, this time from a Major Marchbanks, in Swaleness, who warns of great danger and asks her to come and visit him. She goes, and is presented with a loosely-bound book, while simultaneously being told that an enemy of hers, Mrs. Holland, is in the house, and that she must leave immediately. On the journey towards the train back to London, she becomes aware of a figure following her — a woman in black. Desperate for a hiding place, she asks a photographer if he can help, and he ushers her inside his tent. He misdirects the old woman and gives Sally his card: Frederick Garland, Photographic Artist. On the train, Sally reads a little of the book before falling asleep — it seems to be a tale about her father's time in India, and somehow involves a legendary ruby. When she awakes, the book has been stolen, leaving her with only a single leaf of paper which had fallen out. Sick with disappointment, and unable to understand the cipher which is on the final page, she tells Jim about it, and his interest grows. Later, Major Marchbanks is discovered dead from a gunshot wound. Although police suspect suicide, Mrs. Holland has arranged his murder.

Meanwhile, a sailor from the East by the name of Matthew Bedwell arrives in London and takes lodging with Mrs. Holland, who runs a house in Wapping. She learns that Bedwell is an opium addict. Under the influence of the drug, he reveals details about the schooner "Lavinia" which interests the old woman, and prompts her to contact Samuel Selby, the shipping agent of Lockhart & Selby, to blackmail him. Bedwell tells Mrs Holland's badly-treated servant girl, Adelaide, that she must find a Sally Lockhart. Under pretense of being on an errand, Adelaide goes to the firm of Lockhart & Selby and asks for Sally. Jim overhears her, and extracts all the information he can from her, learning about Bedwell and what he has said about the Seven Blessings, and finally that he has a brother in Oxford who is a Reverend. Jim tells Sally right away.

Sally awakens to find that she has been robbed. Mrs Holland has contracted the same burglar to steal the missing page and kill her. He steals the page and Sally's pistol, but is unable to kill her. Leaving Sally's house, the burglar is killed by a mugger. Sally had copied the page's contents into a journal. Shaken, she informs Mrs Rees about the robbery, but Mrs Rees blames Sally herself. Tired of Mrs Rees' treatment, Sally packs her bags and leaves the house. With nowhere else to go, she calls on the photographer from Swaleness at his offices in Burton Street, and finds his business in financial trouble. She offers to take a look at the books if he, his actress sister Rosa, and their servant Trembler will provide her with accommodation.

Finding herself at home in the Bohemian household of Burton Street, she tells the siblings about Bedwell, and they are intrigued. Frederick uses Crockford's Clerical Dictionary to find Bedwell's brother, and together he and Sally journey to Oxford to tell him about his brother. He resolves to get his brother out of Holland's Lodgings, and tells Sally he will pay a call on her at Burton Street very soon. Afterwards, while walking through Oxford, Sally stops in a photographer's and asks about the business, gaining some valuable business ideas.

The Reverend arrives, and he and Frederick extract Matthew Bedwell from Holland's Lodgings. After a period of recovery, Bedwell tells the assembled company — Sally, Frederick, Rosa, the Reverend and Jim — that Sally's father didn't drown on the "Lavinia". He was murdered by the captain under the orders of Ah Ling, the head of the Seven Blessings, a Chinese secret society (or Triad) that were in shady dealings with Sally's father's firm. He went to the East to try and discover, with the help of a trusted agent named Mr. Van Eeden, what was going on, and the leader of the society killed him.

Sally is concerned for her safety after her pistol was stolen by Mrs. Holland's hired thief. She asks Trembler to help find her a new gun, but he finds only an old gun which Sally is afraid to try to shoot because its barrel is frail. She fears that if the barrel shatters, she could lose an arm. Nevertheless, Sally takes a practice shot in the backyard at Burton Street, and the barrel holds up. Sally discovers the gun's accuracy is poor so the pistol will be useless except at close range.

The Reverend is concerned that his brother may need more opium to prevent him from going into withdrawal while in recovery. Sally and Frederick go to an opium den where Frederick once took photographs. While there, Sally breathes opium smoke and recovers a fragment of memory from when she was a baby. Later, she, Frederick, and Rosa learn that Matthew Bedwell has been killed by thugs in Oxford.

One of Mrs. Holland's informant's spots Adelaide on a walk with Trembler. Then, Holland solves the cipher on the last page of the book Major Marchbanks gave Sally. This discloses the ruby's whereabouts at an inn in Swaleness. Mrs. Holland and her hired bruiser, Mr. Berry, kidnap Adelaide and go to Swaleness to retrieve the ruby. When Jim and Frederick learn of Adelaide's kidnapping, they immediately go to Wapping to rescue her. Sally arrives at Burton Street and is informed by Trembler of Jim and Fred's whereabouts. Sally panics and decides to smoke the opium she had procured for Bedwell, in order to recover the memory of her past that she had experienced briefly in the opium den.

In Wapping, Frederick and Jim retrieve Adelaide from Mrs. Holland's house, but Mrs. Holland has posted scouts on all the bridges out of the neighborhood, preventing their escape. While Fred fights off Mr. Berry, Jim enlists the help of an urchin friend to sneak Adelaide out by a network of underground tunnels, but the friend is revealed to have been in the employ of Mrs. Holland, and she traps them. Fred and Jim fight Mr. Berry again, and kill him to escape. In the commotion, Adelaide vanishes.

Under the influence of the opium, Sally discovers that her father was not Captain Lockhart but Major Marchbanks. Marchbanks, cripplingly addicted to opium, had traded his daughter to Captain Lockhart for the ruby, which Captain Lockhart had been awarded for protecting a local maharajah from a rebellion. Sally tells Rosa, who has arrived home at Burton Street, that she must find the ruby, and Rosa reveals that Jim has been storing it at the house; he had deciphered the riddle in Sally's book long before Mrs. Holland had. Sally arranges to meet Mrs. Holland on London Bridge, where she learns that Mrs. Holland believed she had a right to the gem because she had had an affair with the maharajah, who had promised it to her. Sally concludes that the stone has caused too much pain, relinquishes her claim to it, and throws it over the side of the bridge. Mrs. Holland, driven mad with desire for the gem, throws herself over the bridge after it.

As Sally leaves the scene, a gentleman in a carriage orders her to get in; unable to think clearly after the stress of the day, Sally obeys. The man reveals himself to be her father's trusted agent, Mr. Van Eeden. Unfortunately, the trust was misplaced as Van Eeden's true identity is that of the murderous pirate Ah Ling. He tells Sally he had decided to kill her, but now gives her a choice instead: die, or run away to China with him as his wife. Sally uses her unreliable pistol to shoots him and flees the scene. She and Rosa read in the paper the next day that his empty carriage was found full of blood, but with no body in sight.

Sally continues to stay at Burton Street, but the photographic business is failing and cannot be saved without a large infusion of capital. She receives a message from the Reverend Bedwell, who recalls that before his brother died, he mentioned that Captain Lockhart had told him to tell Sally to "look under the clock." Sally goes to the hiding place under the clock that she and her father shared in their old home, and discovers the money her father left when he sold his share of Lockhart & Selby--enough to save the photographic business--and a letter from her father, allowing her to truly say goodbye.

This book is the first of the Sally Lockhart Quartet:

# "The Ruby in the Smoke"
# "The Shadow in the North"
# "The Tiger in the Well"
# "The Tin Princess"

TV adaptation

A TV Film adaptation written by Adrian Hodges and starring Billie Piper was produced by the BBC. It aired on BBC One on 27 December 2006 [ [ BBC - Press Office - BBC ONE Transmission Details Weeks 52/1 ] ] and on PBS's "Masterpiece Theatre" as the "The Sally Lockhart Mysteries: The Ruby in the Smoke" on 4 February 2007 [ [ Masterpiece | PBS ] ] .

All four Sally Lockhart books will eventually be adapted for television.



External links

* [ Pullman's page on the book]
* [ Overview and background]
* [ Review of the book] , Scotland on Sunday, 10 December 2006
* [ BBC mini-site]
*imdb title|id=0498382|title=The Ruby in the Smoke

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