In the brutal winter of 1947, a young Londoner sets out to vindicate a friend convicted of murder.
Dinah Wentworth feels responsible for Colin’s plight because she discovered the corpse of surrealist painter Titus Mavor and didn’t report it. She was delivering a letter for her boss, who persuaded her it would be safest to keep quiet, but she never imagined the police would accuse Colin, a communist who recently had a loud political argument with Mavor in a café. Feminist cultural historian Wilson’s mystery is long on atmosphere (perhaps thanks to her research for Bohemians, 2001). She captures the dank austerity of bombed-out, postwar London, cleverly counterpointing this bleakness with the giddiness of being young and avant-garde in such a time, contemplating what might arise from the rubble. Dinah, her husband, Alan, and his filmmaking partners, Colin and Hugh, are idealists who intend to remake the world with their art. But at the novel’s start, their alliance is already splintering. Dogmatic Colin and eager-to-sell-out Hugh are at odds as they try to secure funding with the help of enigmatic Romanian director Radu Enescu and his muse-girlfriend, Gwendolen Grey. The combination of Enescu’s Hollywood ambitions and Colin’s arrest severs their bonds for good. Dinah, a feminist who often runs up against the limits of men’s (and her own) freethinking, is an appealing character. Unfortunately, the story is not as compelling as its setting, and the novel soon loses the subtlety and verve of its opening chapters.
Fluidly, even elegantly written, sharply evoking a time, place and mindset. But the promising setup gives way to a workaday mystery.