Monday, 2 March 2015

Crooked Heart - Lissa Evans

I read Lissa Evans' Their Finest Hour and a Half a couple of years ago, but it didn't really grab me.  And then I read this one and really enjoyed it!  Every major character in this novel is a (very) small time crook, from Vera (Vee for short)  Sedge, who would like to have money but doesn't know how to go about getting it; her son, Donald, who does know how to go about getting it, to Noel, who thinks up a couple of schemes for Vera to get out there and make it.

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Set in WW2, this is a book where you can't help but love Vee and Noel, although at first you are not sure why.  Noel's godmother Mattie, with whom he lives on the edge of Hampstead Heath, is that wonderful kind of guardian - loves Noel, loves life and loves being who she is.  So when after her death and a short stay with distant family of Mattie Noel is evacuated to St Albans you'd think it was all for the best.  In St Albans he is lodged with Vera Sedge, and as a child who hardly ever talks, she is confused as to how to deal with him.  Vera has to perform the odd sexual favour for her landlord because her son is working for him (but not really pulling his weight) and the rent is due again.  She makes hat trimmings just to bring in a bit of cash to help feed herself, Donald and her mother, mute after a fall.  They live in a damp, dirty, half empty flat above the scrapyard where Donald works. But Donald has a secret.  He is actually a self made man with a Gladstone bag full of cash on top of his wardrobe - he has a specialist line which he does every once in a while.  And so, as Noel settles in to this odd little family group, he finds his voice, and takes some decisions.  Some for himself, and some for Vee.

We do sometimes disremember wartime in this country.  Perfectly described is the way petty crime was conducted amongst the bombed streets of London, and how those that knew turned a blind eye because that's just how it was. A nicely judged novel, for YAs and adults alike.  Little bits of stuff float into your memory, like the peice of cold potato that Noel had to ask for whilst in a shelter during a bombing raid.  Like the collection box scam that must have been operated all over the place.  I liked the writing style, enjoyed the tale.  Would make a decent TV drama, too, and no surprise there as Evans has worked in both radio and tv production.