A prequel to Not All Tarts are Apples (2002), narrated by Zelda Fluck, who withstands ’itler’s doodlebugs, food and fag rationing, and a brutalizing husband to emerge triumphant at war’s end.
Zelda’s marriage has gone steadily downhill since its shotgun beginning, with Charlie carousing with gin and women and whacking her so badly she miscarries. When Zinnia Makepeace, the local healer in Paradise Garden, Hackney, offers refuge, her digs are vandalized, her cats shot at, and Zelda coshed. Is it Charlie’s work, or that of blackmarketeer Ma Hole and her thieving lad Brian, furious at Zelda’s nephew Tony for grassing on them? Tony’s been a handful since his dad’s gone missing in the war; but when his pal Brian brandishes a Luger, bullets and a live grenade, he shivers and tattles. Zelda and the vicar scheme to keep Tony safe, but it’s Zinnia who sets him on the right path, arranging for Digby Burlap to coach the sweet-voiced boy in his Soho studio. Every Saturday, while waiting for his lesson to end, Zelda sits in the downstairs cafe owned by Bert and his barren wife Maggie. There, she meets the posh and pregnant prostitute Cassie, dreams of a life without Charlie, and ultimately finds the way to end her own personal war.
Barely enough mystery to qualify for the genre, but the writing is superb, Zelda is an inspiration, and the insider knowledge of wartime England is priceless.