Andrew Taylor’s literary mystery is set in London in the early 1930's, in that uneasy period between the Great Wars.
Aristocrat Lydia Langstone leaves her violent husband and having no one else to turn to moves in with her ne'er-do-well drunken Father, Captain Ingleby-Lewis.
Their scruffy, lodging house at 7 Bleeding Heart Square used to be owned by a rich spinster Miss Phillipa Penhow but she has, apparently, gone to America after signing over the house to Joseph Serridge, a mysterious, menacing man. Miss Penhow has not been heard of in four years
Rory Wentworth, a struggling journalist wants to find out what happened to Ms Penhow, his soon to be ex fiancée is her niece. Rory turns out not to be alone in his suspicions about Joseph Serridge. A plain clothes policeman, Narton, is watching the house obsessively and strange parcels addressed to Major Serridge and containing rotting animal hearts begin arriving at the house.
The mysterious disappearance of Miss Penhow is the foundation of the novel but it is the strong writing, the almost Dickensian characters and the layer upon layer of subplots, all twisting and turning, till they become interlinked that keeps you turning the pages. The book has a menacing atmosphere throughout, with shady, shifty characters and a threat of violence, either real or perceived.
Intertwined with this is Miss Penhow's diary which is narrated to the reader by a persons unknown and you feel in turns sorry and then angry at this foolish, naive woman desperate for love.
The sense of period is superb and the author has important things to say about the privileged rich and their attitude towards the working class, rural Britain, the legacy of World War One, women’s place in society and the rise of the British Fascist party. The setting of a grim, cold London in the 30s and the gloomy oppressive nature of Bleeding heart Square itself gives the story a sinister,menacing tone.
I loved ‘plucky’ Lydia Langstone as the lady who is now ‘slumming’ it trying to make a new life for herself, her growing friendship with Rory Wentworth as he also moves into 7 Bleeding Heart Square, and her own part in unravelling the threads surrounding Miss Penhow's story.