The tarnished silver, which had appeared at every other meal, was now clean and bright; crystal glasses stood on a newly laundered tablecloth. The women had dressed up too. Lydia looked serenely beautiful in what he thought must be a pre-war dress, which fell to her ankles and sparkled with thousands of tiny beads. She was walking with a silver-topped cane and was evidently finding it hard to put her weight on one leg. Frances was watching her. She wore an equally old-fashioned long crimson dress, with her hair caught back in a small jewelled clip. From everything Eleanor had told him about Frances, Laurence doubted she ever left Easton much or had any call for fashionable evening dress. He thought that at least Lydia had known marriage, even if followed by tragedy, where Frances had only escaped briefly to Cambridge. Eleanor alone wore a modern evening dress, with a low waist and a silk fringe bouncing on her knees. A long pearl necklace was knotted on her chest. She had obviously seized any old cardigan to throw on over it but the effect nonetheless made her look young.
observations: A second visit to this book. There is a mention in the book of ‘Irish twins’ – two children born at opposite ends of the same year. Elizabeth Speller’s two Laurence Bartram books seem to fit the bill: this and The Return of Captain John Emmott apparently were both published in 2011. Speller is an excellent writer who should be better known – they are both books to get lost in and enjoy, very atmospheric historical crime fiction.
Laurence Bartram, a widower and First World War veteran, is visiting the big house to look at the local church: there are echoes here of JL Carr’s tiny masterpiece, A Month in the Country, also set after the war. He ends up investigating the long-ago disappearance of a child, and then some current events, while thinking about his own and everyone else’s private lives.
It’s a tribute to the book that I just wanted it to be better. I very much enjoyed reading it, but you can’t start asking too many questions about quite why everyone acted the way they did. For instance: one character sees something and misinterprets it. It is clear from early on what was actually happening, but – for no reason – he isn’t told the truth, and there is a big reveal at the end: of something we already know. And flibbertigibbet that I am, I would have loved some happy cheerful characters, or some jokes, or someone who wasn’t desperately unhappy. (The writer Charles Morgan would not have been on my side - humour does us no good at all, he says.)
The usual nostalgic stuff about the time before the war, the golden summers before the slaughter, and the lovely life of a traditional village – well that doesn’t sit well with what we actually find out was going on. It’s hard to match up the original picture with the later revelations.
Another beaded dress decorated this entry: