Genre : Fiction
Published : 1 Feb 2003 - Virago
Steeped in gritty historical detail, FINGERSMITH tells the story of Sue Trinder, who grows up as a petty thief – a ‘fingersmith’ – on the streets of Victorian London. Her fortune seems to take an up-turn when the handsome master thief Richard “Gentleman” Rivers appears on the scene with an elaborate plan to relieve a rich heiress of her fortune. Soon, however, Sue finds herself enmeshed in more than a simple fraud. A brilliant and deftly plotted tale of deception, insanity and secrets, reminiscent of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens.

FINGERSMITH was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize in 2002.

In 2005, FINGERSMITH was broadcast as a three-part TV drama on BBC1, starring Imelda Staunton, Rupert Evans, Charles Dance, Sally Hawkins and Elaine Cassidy, and produced by Sally Head Productions – who were also responsible for the highly acclaimed TV version of TIPPING THE VELVET. The adaptation was nominated for a BAFTA.


Even if (like me) you are usually suspicious of historical fiction, this is a novel so enjoyable that any such reservations have to be set aside. Waters is not simply one of our best historical novelists, but one of our best novelists…Sooner or later, she’s going to be given the Booker. If you haven’t already, start reading her now, and be one step ahead of the crowd.

Matt Thorne, Independent on Sunday

It’s a thriller, yes, but it’s also a love story – a sexy, passionate and startling one … It is unnerving and erotic in all the right ways. And modern – though Waters makes full and sensuous use of gloves, stockings, rustling skirts and heaving breasts, her ear for the crunch of language, her knowingness and her unceasing impulse for physical honesty turn every potential cliché into something up-close and fresh …There are always novels that you envy people for not yet having read, for the pleasures still to come. Well, this is one. Long, dark, twisted and satisfying, it’s a fabulous piece of writing, but Waters’s most impressive achievement is that she also makes it feel less like reading, more like living; an unforgettable experience.


This is OLIVER TWIST with a twist – in fact enough twists to ensure that it becomes a page turner … there is an emotional immediacy to this tale, a creeping modern relevance that lifts it out of the realms of the Gothic in which her imagination clearly revels … It is this authenticity that makes FINGERSMITH compulsive.

The Times

Sarah Waters dusts off the Victorian melodrama and shows that there’s life in the old props yet. Her sense of the past is acute, but never inhibits the free flow of invention or emotion … Brilliant.

The Observer

Waters certainly matches [Wilkie] Collins for cleverness and chicanery of plot. The double crosses are superbly contrived and entirely unexpected. I was taken in by each of her characters in turn … If you enjoy the sort of unabashedly sensational novel in which highly-strung women spend their nights creeping about stately homes in long white nightdresses in search of concealed family scandals then FINGERSMITH is a must.

The Daily Telegraph

The story twists and turns, providing all the satisfaction of a modern thriller while being packed with plenty of convincing, 19th-century details … it is evidence of Waters’ terrific skill that by the last chapter one almost does not trust her to provide a happy ending.


What makes Waters more than a writer of historical pastiche is the modern sensibility that she brings to her work. Her books bulge with period detail and have gripping, carefully constructed plots. There’s plenty of danger, mystery, hysteria and corruption. Yet she also puts what’s only ever hinted at in Victorian novels – drug addiction, sexuality, pornography – right up front.


Waters spellbinding tightly plotted tale of love and deception grabs your attention right to its dramatic and deeply satisfying conclusion.


As claustrophobic as a tightly laced corset. And just as thrilling.

Elle, "Book of the Month"

Wilkie Collins’s THE WOMAN IN WHITE remains one of the best and creepiest thrillers ever written, and for anyone to attempt a rewrite takes a lot of nerve. Luckily, nerve is the quality Sarah Waters has in abundance, alongside formidable historical knowledge of the Victorian era, the ability to convey passion and a gift for storytelling that is as seductive as it is steely. What she has done in FINGERSMITH is worthy of its model ... Gloriously melodramatic yet peopled with characters who grow and develop beyond heroism and villainy, FINGERSMITH should be as successful as Charles Palliser’s QUINCUNX. As with Dickens, you simply do not care that it all becomes increasingly improbable: the author’s feel for the narrow, filthy streets of London, the eerily empty countryside and her cast of villains make it one of the most enjoyable novels this year.

Amanda Craig, The Literary Review

This is a big, bold, entertaining novel, which, for all its intense historical flavour, retains a thoroughly contemporary setting.

Daily Mail

A triumph of narrative magic, a glowing, sinister backlit enchanter.

Times Literary Supplement

Sarah Waters’ fiction is serious entertainment, like all novels should be, and FINGERSMITH has one of the most startling plot twists you’ll ever read.

Nick Hornby, Waterstones recommendations

Immaculately stylish and pleasurable … a glittering feat of imagination, complex as a spider’s web.

Daily Telegraph "Books of the Year"

Infuses Victorian melodrama with a refreshing, modern sensibility... the novel is a tremendous achievement.

The Lady

A worthy, innovative, even subversive successor to the doorstoppers of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.


Buy it or borrow it - but do yourself a favour, and read it.

Docklands and City of London Recorder

If you like a great story, brilliantly told, you’ll love this book.

Laura Shepherd-Robinson, The Times

This is a fantastic thriller, set in the underbelly of Victorian England. It has crime, passion, drama… and quite simply the best plot twist of any book I’ve ever read. It comes so brilliantly out of the blue that you can’t believe what you’re reading. Fantastic!

Good Housekeeping

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