I’d throughly enjoyed Helen’s last book The Deception of Harriet Fleet, so I was looking forward to this release. The Lodger is an interesting historical fiction novel set in the period post WW1 and the Spanish Flu epidemic.. It’s a period I’m particularly interested in and I was drawn to the premise and how it brought the changes of that time into the plot of the story. This was a time of personal and national mourning, with the war appearing like a scar cut right across the public’s consciousness that hasn’t yet had time to heal. Our heroine, Grace, has a family torn apart by grief. She lost her brother Edward at the front and her parents grieved very differently, with her father keeping quite stoic and her mother struggling to cope. Eventually it was decided that for her own good, Grace’s mother would go and rest in an institution where she could be cared for properly. Grace also lost her fiancé Robert at the Somme, a loss she’s struggling to come to terms with as she keeps seeing him on the street, in crowds and on buses. Yet she can never find him. In order to make ends meet and to further an ambition Grace has taken a job at a nursing newspaper and wants to become a journalist, something that would have been unthinkable a few years before. Similarly, to make ends meet in their London home, they have taken in a lodger. Many well-to-do families were forced to do this at the time and Grace has struck up quite a friendship with Elizabeth, a church going woman who was proving to be a great friend. So when Elizabeth is found dead in the river and the police quickly rule it a suicide, Grace is shocked but determined to leave no stone unturned in finding out about the death of her friend.
The historical background was woven into the story so well: a general sense of everyone mourning someone, the fact that women’s positions in society were changing and the difficulties for those returning from the horrors they’ve seen. It was great that this was sometimes incidental background, such as someone Grace goes to speak to having a bad morning, because it’s the anniversary of his son’s death. It gave a real sense that this was an all pervasive grief and hung over the whole country. We would see it in more depth in certain characters. Her friend Edward still has an air of the last century in the way he deals with what he’s seen. He’s very protective of Grace and doesn’t want to tell her things that might distress her, and you get the sense he will take his experiences to the grave. Whereas his friend Tom is willing to be more vulnerable and has clearly suffered mentally since he returned with PTSD. He’s more willing to share with Grace and be honest about what the war has cost him. A character that really shows a change in women’s behaviour is Lady Bunty Jaggers, a friend of Grace’s mother. Grace asks for help in reaching a society lady whose husband knew Elizabeth, so goes to meet Bunty in her London home. She is a very colourful character and has an interesting way of looking at her marriage and what it gives her. She could leave her husband, but at the moment she has the best of both worlds. She’s cushioned by his money and title, but he remains resolutely in the country and she stays in their London townhouse living entirely separate lives. She’s also very forthright about Grace’s mother, suggesting that all the care home does is medicate her to the point of being unconscious. She thinks Grace should take her away from there and simply let her cope with the grief unmedicated, after all grief is normal.
Grace uncovers a terrible story of Elizabeth’s past life, including sexual impropriety, blackmail and possibly murder. None of which seems to fit with the Elizabeth she knew. She will need to interview many people, some of the them wealthy and very dangerous, to get to the truth. Was Elizabeth a changed woman because of all the wrongs she’d committed before or is there more to this story than meets the eye. Grace will need all of her investigative skills to uncover what really happened and she needs to keep an eye out for whoever is watching her and potentially wants to stop her. There were parts of the book that were a little slow and it could have benefited from a chapter or two from Elizabeth’s point of view in a separate timeline. However, I did enjoy that this news about female friendship and going the extra mile for someone who has been good to you, no matter what others say. Grace’s loyalty and determination are evident here. She also shows loyalty to her mother and a willingness to defy her father when she thinks he’s wrong. I really enjoyed how their mother daughter relationship developed.over the book. Finally there’s a little bit of romance too and a choice to be made between a man who is loyal, kind and would keep her safe or a different man who is more progressive, open and would see her as a partner, not a dependent. I liked that this choice was left till late in the book, because it would signify how Grace saw her future and whether or not she was in charge of it.
Out now from Quercus.
Meet the Author
‘The Deception of Harriet Fleet’ is my first novel and is set in the north east of England. I’ve always loved the big, classic novels from the nineteenth century, with lots of governesses and intrigue, and I sometimes wonder whether I was born in the wrong era! Although the Victorian period was a time of huge changes, the inhabitants of Teesbank Hall are trapped in the past by the destructive secrets they hold. Teesbank Hall itself is fictional but most of the other settings in the novel are real and close to where I live with my husband and two daughters. I teach A Level English and write whenever I can grab a spare moment. (Taken from Helen’s Amazon Author Page).
You might also enjoy Helen’s first novel. A dark tale that’s brimming with suspense, an atmospheric Victorian chiller set in brooding County Durham for fans of Stacey Halls and Laura Purcell
1871. An age of discovery and progress. But for the Wainwright family, residents of the gloomy Teesbank Hall in County Durham the secrets of the past continue to overshadow their lives.
Harriet would not have taken the job of governess in such a remote place unless she wanted to hide from something or someone. Her charge is Eleanor, the daughter of the house, a fiercely bright eighteen-year-old, tortured by demons and feared by relations and staff alike. But it soon becomes apparent that Harriet is not there to teach Eleanor, but rather to monitor her erratic and dangerous behaviour – to spy on her.
Worn down by Eleanor’s unpredictable hostility, Harriet soon finds herself embroiled in Eleanor’s obsession – the Wainwright’s dark, tragic history. As family secrets are unearthed, Harriet’s own begin to haunt her and she becomes convinced that ghosts from the past are determined to reveal her shameful story.
For Harriet, like Eleanor, is plagued by deception and untruths.