A CITY OF STRANGERS by Robert Barnard
Kirkus Star


Email this review


The middle-class people who live in the half-dozen solid Victorian houses of Wynton Lane are mostly inured to living cheek-by-jowl with the lower-class--meaning largely welfare-supported residents of Belfield Grove Estate, post-war low-income housing gone to seed. In the shabbiest and dirtiest of those houses lives unemployed, loudmouthed Jack Phelan, his slovenly wife and a brood of children headed by vicious Kevin and his prostitute sister June, both now living elsewhere. The oldest still at home are 13-year-old Cilia, obviously headed June's way, and Michael, miraculously untouched by it all, taken under the wing of teacher Carol Southgate, who lives in one of the basement flats on Wynton Lane. All is relatively peaceful until the day Jack Phelan, family in tow, comes to view the one house for sale on the Lane, owned by local G.P. Dr. Picketing, and rumor spreads that Phelan has had a big lottery win. One look at the screaming Phelans next-door arouses delicate Rosamund Eastlake from a years-long depression to rally her nerdy, oversolicitous son Adrian, widower neighbor Algy Cartwright, food-store manager Lynn Packard, retired teacher Daphne Bridewell and others on the street to try to forestall a sale to the Phelans. Some frustrating research turns up no way to do this, but it becomes academic when the Phelans house is torched and Jack Phelan dies in the fire. It's up to Superintendent Mike Oddie to find the arsonist, and it takes some imaginative sleuthing to find the unexpected motive and murderer. Barnard's incisive character studies, ear for dialogue, and eye for the telling detail (Bodies, etc.), along with a solidly honed plot, are all in play in this quietly engrossing story--another gem from a master.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Scribners