Book Review: Belinda Lyons-Lee’s Tussaud is a delightfully devious gothic mystery

It should have been Marie Tussaud’s greatest success. An automaton, rendered lifelike through her waxworking skills. It would stand, walk, elegantly wave a fan. Even sweeter that it should be Marie Antoinette; the French Revolution had cost both queen and artist plenty.

But when her business partner, a magician named Philidor, ignores her instructions, the show falls apart. Marie Antoinette is ruined, and Phantasmagoria is cancelled even before the curtain falls on opening night.

And yet, a man in the audience sees something special in the show. A proposition is placed before Tussaud and Philidor. An eccentric duke, living in isolation at the sprawling Welbeck Abbey, has a commission for them. An automaton of his own, built to his exact specifications. In return, a small fortune, and the opportunity to craft a new show, hosted in the underground ballroom of Welbeck itself.

Once settled at the estate, however, things begin to take a dark turn. Tensions with Philidor are high. And bound by the Duke of Portland’s strange rules, and his unnervingly precise list of requests for his automaton, Marie can’t quite shake the feeling that something is dreadfully wrong at Welbeck Abbey.

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