The book begins with 'The Demon L' a substantial and engrossing story of a girl growing up in an unspecified time and place that feels like Britain around 1900. There's a gritty tone to the action, but the prose is clear, cool, and rather poetic.
Holmes' protagonist, known only as L, is exploited all her life. Firstly her mother uses her childish cuteness to draw in custom, then she is sent to work in a shop where an older man seeks to abuse her. In trying to defend herself she accidentally causes the man's death and flees her home town, seeking her long-departed father. When she finds a man who fits the bill he, too, starts to use her as an accomplice when cheating at cards. When he gets caught and badly beaten he takes it out on her. This triggers the 'demon' within L. She kills in a frenzy of rage, then flees.
L's fortunes seems to take a turn for the better when she meets a gentle, kind man and falls in love. But then she makes a fatal mistake, and the demon is unleashed again. (Whether this demon is real or a personification of her repressed anger seems unimportant - besides, why can't it be both?) Finally, L seeks refuge in a travelling show as a sideshow attraction. There is a pendant to this novella in the following story, 'Miss Luna', which shows us L's carnival life from a different perspective.
This is an assured, well-created opening to a substantial collection. Indeed, if the rest of the book is of the same standard the author deserves to scoop some awards. So, stay tuned, and we will see what comes next.