The beginning of this book recreated the feeling of a stage being set in readiness for a forthcoming play. The cast assemble; The librarian Cecil Titmuss who has a fondness for creating famous landmarks out of matchsticks, his wife June making a bid for independence outside the home, the driver Ted Jessop who ferries people around in his pride and joy, Mrs Malmesbury one of his weekly customers, the happily married dentist Mr Bryan Vigors, Lorna Gibson the standoffish dental assistant and Ray Brett the rogue with buckets of charisma all make an appearance within the first twenty odd pages.
It soon becomes clear that Cecil and June’s marriage isn’t as good a match as either of them had hoped but with two young children June is keen to do more than watch television, so she takes up Italian, here she meets Lorna Gibson. When elderly Mrs Malmesbury takes ill in the library soon after visiting the dentist she is taken to the hospital. With the local community rallying round as would only be expected in 1975 when this book was published, the other characters meet each other. Life in 1975 was very different to today, June who is by no stretch of the imagination a timid woman has to persuade her husband of the merits of her working mornings in the florist while her children are at school and giving a delivery man a 10p tip seems laughable until I remember the fortune of the 50p coin that a ‘rich’ uncle would press into my eager hand when we visited.
So what is the backdrop to the set? A small suburban town complete with florist, dentist surgery, library and banks. The local businesses deposit their cash in the night safe, this being the days before everyone paid with a card and Ray Brett is on the lookout for an easy way to make some money to escape life living at home with his Mum to the bright lights of London. With another of our cast developing a serious obsession about the life of another things take a turn for the sinister. With the lights turned off the watcher looks into a backlit room watching the daily goings on but soon this isn’t enough.
I really enjoyed the almost gentle unfolding of what is an exploration of the psyche of a number of characters as their actions reveal to the reader what they have managed to keep hidden from their nearest and dearest. This is a book that has a slow burn, as I got wrapped up in the characters lives, feeling sad for poor Mrs Malmesbury, worrying about timid Cecil Titmuss and wondering whether Ray would come to the sticky end I predicted for him when gradually the slow leisurely read became much more tense as the dénouement was played out with some unexpected results.
This is the second book by Margaret Yorke I’ve read, the first being A Small Deceit which was published more than fifteen years later, and have thoroughly enjoyed them both, if I’m honest for the transportation to some recent history is almost as enjoyable as the tale being told.