Thursday, November 22, 2012

War Damage by Elizabeth Wilson

Ah yes, the book souvenir from London.  Scanning the shelves, tables and displays at Hatchards for something to tempt me a very nice woman pointed me in the direction of just the sort of books I adore.  The trouble was that most of them already sat on my bookshelves at home.  A light bulb turned on and she led me towards a crime display and with a very happy, satisfied look on her face she told me that all sorts of people had popped in asking for a copy of War Damage over the past year or so.  Considering this book was first published in 2009 that indicates a 'word of mouth' read, just the sort to tempt me despite the fact I don't go in for crime novels.  Flipping through the pages the words 'Downshire Hill' caught my eye and remembering that I had wandered the very street just a day or two before my mind was made up.

Set just after World War II, Regine Milner hosts Sunday get-togethers at the charming home she shares with her husband, Neville.  With alabaster skin and red hair she attracts the attention of every man who crosses her path, gay or straight.  Her circle of friends consist of people from the arts, politics and the war office so confidentiality and loyalty go without saying.  When a dear friend, Freddie, is found dead on the Heath after one of the Milner's gatherings the police centre their investigation on those in attendance.  If a gay man is murdered in Soho the case is just another assignment but not when it happens in Hampstead.

There were small but clever details that I really appreciated by a contemporary author such as one of the detectives noting that a great deal of money had been found in the victim's wallet.  It was £5 which is lunch money by today's standards but not for the era written about and could so easily have been ignored in the writing.  The inception of the NHS also gets a mention when a friend of Regine's becomes pregnant during an affair with a married man and when a housekeeper is ill with flu.  Also in keeping with the times, Neville prefers his wife to be the 'salon hostess' sort while Regine hopes to become more than a French history translation clerk for the publishing company she works for.  The sentiments felt quite genuine so I'll forgive the odd moment when the description of clothing went slightly too far.  I know what the cut of a dress from that era looked like.

Here is a gratuitous quote but it was foggy as anything at my house a couple of days ago (at 5 am, before setting out to walk Deacon, thank you very much) just as I happened to read...

'As they walked along the pavement the slabs gradually disappeared.  The suffocating fog crept closer still.  She could see barely a foot ahead.  A white wall rolled towards them.  They were alone in this suffocating, silent world.  Sound, too, was deadened; no traffic, no footsteps.  She stretched her free arm sideways groping for a wall or something solid to hold on to, and when she found it edged her way along it.  Roxborough lit a match, but the feeble glow did nothing to disperse the miasma.'  ...Eeek!

Crime is a genre I just don't dabble in so there were times when a character was about to reveal something really, really crucial...and then they would pull back.  Aaarrrghhh...I wanted to scream 'Just spit it out, for goodness sake!' and let's face it, that's how it works and I was hooked so what was I to do but hang in there.  And too right...this story was entertaining and quite the good read so way to go Elizabeth Wilson, I will definitely be looking out for more of your work.


  1. I love the sound of this -- absolutely up my street. Thanks. And by the way can I recommend Laura Wilson, whose 'Stratton' series is also set in wartime or post-war London -- brilliant detective stories, wonderful evocation of the era!

    1. Oh, Oh....thank you, Harriet! How could I have forgotten about my copy of Stratton's War left to languish on my shelves these past few years?! What a treat and how silly of me....