The House Across The Street by Lesley Pearse
Twenty-three-year-old Katy Speed has always been fascinated by the house across the street . . .
The woman who lives there, Gloria, is the most glamorous neighbour on the avenue, owning a fashionable dress shop in Bexhill-on-Sea. But who is the woman who arrives in the black car most Saturdays while Gloria is at work? Sometimes she brings women to the house, and other times the women come with children.
Hilda, Katy’s mother, disapproves of Gloria. She wonders where these mysterious visitors have come from, and what they want. Does Gloria have sinister reasons for secretly bringing strangers into the heart of the community?
Then one night, the house burns down. In the wreckage, the bodies of Gloria and her daughter are found. Katy is sure the unexplained strangers must be responsible, until her father is arrested and charged with murder.
Surely the police have arrested the wrong person?
Is the rest of the street safe?
Can Katy find the truth before it’s too late?
I am a huge fan of Lesley Pearse and her novel Remember Me, is one of my all-time favourites. I recently enjoyed The Woman In The Wood, but noticed the author had taken a much darker spin on her usual saga type novels. It was still a cracking read, but I was surprised at some of the tough/violent themes.
This time she has written a similar dark novel, set in the 1960’s. The era really sets the tone, as this was an era of fundamental change for women and the beginnings of the female sexual revolution.
The prologue opens in Bexhill-On-Sea, Essex 1964. Katy (22yrs) is busy spying on her neighbours, when she is interrupted by her brother Rob. He is currently home from university and appears to not feel too welcome in his own home.
It becomes quite clear why upon the introduction of Hilda. Katy and Rob’s mother, is far from ‘mothering’. She appears to enjoy belittling and making nasty remarks to others including her own daughter, son and husband. But no one is a bigger target for Hilda than the glamour neighbour Gloria.
Mrs Gloria Reynolds is a local business owner. She owns ‘Gloria’s Gowns’ and Katy is in complete awe of her. Something which sees to incense Hilda even further. Gloria is considered a ‘glamourous divorcee’ locally. With divorce still being considered a taboo subject. Katy is desperate to know more information about her, but aware of the social restrictions to simply ask…..
‘It was rude to ask personal things of someone you didn’t know’ – Katy
Gloria had often taken the time to give Katy advice and guidance, which led to a growth in her confidence and self-esteem. Which enrages Hilda as she feels the slip of her control over her daughter growing.
Especially when Gloria recommends a life in London for Katy.
Hilda is a battle-axe and all-round snob, but as her character develops, we uncover there is more going on inside her own head.
As the saying goes, damaged people, damage people.
In January 1965, there is a terrible fire in the middle of the night at Gloria’s. A fire that will take the lives of two souls, including Gloria. Albert (Katy’s long-suffering father) rushes to help. Whilst Hilda continues to make vicious snide comments and be opinionated beyond the realms of human decency.
When the fire is discovered to be arson and Katy’s father is arrested. Katy must turn amateur sleuth to separate fact from fiction. Albert denies any such affair or knowledge of a motive for the fire. Whilst Hilda turns on her own husband.
‘By consorting with that woman right under my nose, he deserves all he gets’ – Hilda
Katy seeks out Gloria’s friend Edna, is a desperate search for clues of who would want Gloria dead. What she uncovers is a world of domestic abuse, hidden and hushed up amongst middle-class society.
The plot is very moving, and protagonist centred around Katy. I struggled with the constant reminders of this being an issue impacting ‘middle-class’ people. Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, it certainly doesn’t discriminate due to wealth. 4*
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