A Dangerous Crossing

A Dangerous Crossing

 

A Dangerous Crossing

by Rachel Rhys

 

1939, Europe on the brink of war. Lily Shepherd leaves England on an ocean liner for Australia, escaping her life of drudgery for new horizons. She is instantly seduced by the world onboard: cocktails, black-tie balls and beautiful sunsets. Suddenly, Lily finds herself mingling with people who would otherwise never give her the time of day.

But soon she realizes her glamorous new friends are not what they seem. The rich and hedonistic Max and Eliza Campbell, mysterious and flirtatious Edward, and fascist George are all running away from tragedy and scandal even greater than her own.

By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and life will never be the same again.

 

Lily shepherd is travelling to Australia, taking advantage of a government assisted place programme. She has to spend two years in domestic service when she arrives, but nevertheless she is looking forward to her new life and new adventures, hoping it will help her escape events from her past life.

The ocean liner provides an existence bubble away from the protocols of real life; class boundaries blur and unlikely friendships are struck up.

Set in the period leading up to WWII, many of the ship’s passengers are trying to escape the impending war and their own dark secrets. As the voyage goes on it becomes clear that something tragic is going to happen.

I absolutely adored this Agatha Christiesque tale of decadence and intrigue. The sights, sounds and smells of this ocean liner are brought brilliantly to life by clever, astute writing of the highest order. The stop-overs at the various countries immerse you in the crowds, the bustle, the cultures; you don’t just read this book: you feel it and experience it.

The characters are wonderful, Lily, who is at the heart of the story, trying to escape her demons and forge a new life; Max and Eliza, first class passengers who befriend Lily; the unstable George Price, with fascist leanings; Maria, a Jewish woman fleeing Europe and its impending war; and brother and sister Edward and Helena Fletcher who are also harbouring secrets.

The cover of the book is just perfect, the huge liner about to take over everyone’s life and one of the passenger’s (Lily?) so small looking up to a new life, yet seemingly up to her neck in water.

I am not sure how you would describe this book; it’s not classic murder/mystery with suspects, more historical drama with intrigue. However you describe it, it is wonderful, an absolute gem and highly recommended.

Many thanks to Alison Barrow at Transworld for sending me a copy

 

 

 

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Curtain Call

curtain call

 

Curtain Call

by Anthony Quinn

 

On a sultry afternoon in the summer of 1936 a young woman is witness to an attempted murder in a London hotel room.

Nina, a West End actress, faces a dilemma: she shouldn’t have been at the hotel in the first place, and certainly not with a married man. But once it becomes apparent that she has seen the face of the man the newspapers have dubbed ‘the Tie-Pin Killer’ she realises that unless she acts quickly, more women will die…

From the glittering murk of Soho’s underworld, to the grease paint and ghost-lights of theatreland,Curtain Call is a poignant and gripping story about love and death in a society dancing towards the abyss.

 

Having read Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn and absolutely loving it, I was really looking forward to Curtain Call.

There is a murderer on the loose, known as the Tie-Pin Killer, who preys on prostitutes. Nina Land is spending an illicit afternoon in The Imperial hotel with Stephen Wyley, a married man, when she hears cries coming from one of the other rooms. she intervenes, and saves the young girl’s life. Nevertheless the murderer now knows them both and is coming after them.

The murder mystery is the thread that runs through the book but it is very much the sub-plot. This book is all about the characters and the disarray of their lives.  Quinn shines a spotlight on these people living in an era – the 1930s- when everything was falling apart and nobody quite knew how to recover themselves.

There are five main characters and all of them are beautifully written individuals. even if you don’t like them you can’t deny they are real, plausible people whom you end up caring a great deal about.

The biggest character of the lot is James Erskine, a theatre critic, who feels his star is waning and his editor is trying to get rid of him. This doesn’t stop him from risking everything by indulging in sordid episodes with younger men in an age when homosexuality was a criminal offence. His witty but unforgiving judgements rub some people up the wrong way, but everyone indulges him as he’s ‘just Jimmy’.  He is carried through life by his secretary cum dogsbody, Tom. Tom has had enough of his employer and tries to leave him but just cannot seem to cut the cord.

Nina Land, an up and coming actress working in theatreland in the West End, is having an affair with Stephen Wyley a society portraitist, who is stuck in a marriage he doesn’t want.

Finally there is Madeleine Farewell who gets trapped and ends up working as an escort with no way out. She is the character that connects everyone and brings all the threads together.

The book is set in 1936 with real life events playing out in the background; the rise of fascism, the devastating fire at the Crystal Palace, the abdication crisis. All these events add an extra authenticity to the book , but it is the writing of Anthony Quinn that truly brings the era to life. Writing in the style of the 1930s – and not just in the dialogue, he  places you right there in amongst the characters and their lives. It is wonderfully evocative.

I absolutely loved this book and really didn’t want to let it go. Anthony Quinn is incapable of writing a dull sentence:

“good writing transforms the commonplace into the remarkable” – James  Erskine.

Exactly so, and Anthony Quinn does just that.

*****