Sunday, December 06, 2009
Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor
Protagonists: Lydia Langstone and Rory Wentwood
Setting: Bleeding Heart Square, London, 1934
Lydia Langstone is an upper-class woman used to the finer things. But when her husband strikes her, she leaves her comfortable life to share a gritty apartment with her estranged father in the somewhat seedy Bleeding Heart Square. Rory Wentwood, a journalist who has spent years in India and is now unemployed, also finds himself renting an apartment there. The legend of the square has it that the devil, disguised during a party, danced away with a lady, leaving her body on the square, her bleeding heart on the cobblestones. Now, someone is sending apartment owner Serridge hearts and skulls. Could it have something to do with Miss Penhow, the middle-aged spinster who owned the apartments before she fell in love with Serridge? Miss Penhow mysteriously disappeared a few years ago, and now Rory, acting on behalf of his one-time fiancee Fenella, is trying to find out what happened. Lydia soon becomes involved in the mystery, as well.
While Bleeding Heart Square is most assuredly a mystery, Taylor's books are so much more, this one being a Dicksensian tour of the have's and have not's, of a politically-torn England pre-World War II and of the options open to women at that time. Taylor is a master of the atmospheric, and he paints bleakness beautifully. I've read some criticism that the book moves too slowly, but that is what I like about Taylor -- he writes psychological suspense like no one else. He pulls you into the characters' stories so completely and then -- surprise -- wraps up the mystery you almost forgot about.