The second installment of childhood recollections (after Opposite the Cross Keys, 1988) by mystery writer S.T. Haymon, who here evokes a sheltered 12-year-old's further encounters with life's earthier side.
Haymon's 1920's, upper-middle-class childhood revolved typically around school, home, loyal servants, and a pair of doting, well-educated parents--until age 12, when her father died and her mother decided to move to London. Refusing to accompany her, the precocious, comically self-confident Sylvia tried to limit this series of upheavals by insisting on remaining in Norfolk in the care of a favorite teacher--except that at the last minute her headmistress (already a sworn enemy) switched houses, arranging for two maiden schoolteachers to put Sylvia up in their house instead. Sylvia knew that the Misses Gosse and Locke were eccentric. What she didn't know was that the skinny, aggressive history teacher and the teary, puppy-like math professor were lesbians. Nor did she notice as Miss Locke's increasingly desperate infatuation with her began to lead the entire household toward destruction. Amusing characters abound--the gardener, Sylvia's only ally, whose faith in the value of a virgin's tips on the horse races led him to pay her for advice; the dour housekeeper who sang opera and downed bottles of gin; the art teacher's model who bewildered Sylvia with talk of "randy old dykes"; and the spiritual channel who informed her that her daddy was watching everything she did from heaven. Haymon's depiction of herself as an unusually clever, frequently petulant, and thoroughly practical young girl obsessed with filling her stomach while all sorts of passionate fireworks exploded around her evokes an era when secrets still existed and scandals were bursting to happen--and makes for slyly humorous, very British entertainment.