Sunday, March 3, 2024

Someone From The Past - Margot Bennett

I've been in a bit of a slump recently, sleeping badly and very tired, which has mad doing anything seem like exceptionally hard work. It's been all I can do to drag myself through a workday more often than not, and there doesn't seem to have been time for anything else. I think this might partly be due to the pills I'm taking to counter the symptoms of large fibroids - I'm 9 weeks in and the upside is I think they might be settling down and that just maybe I'll find a new normal. The downside is that it's taken this long and if this is the new normal it's not great.

Meanwhile the books have been piling up and I haven't known where to start or what my concentration would hold up to - but luckily I picked up 'Someone From the Past' this weekend, and I have been enthralled. I read and liked both of Margot Bennett's previous titles from the British Library crime classics series (The Man Who Didn't Fly was twisty and interesting, The Widow Of Bath - atmospheric British Noir) but for me this book leaves both of those standing.

'Someone From the Past' was published in 1958, our narrator, Nancy is 26, she's in love with Donald, but he's also been in love with her best friend Sarah, who makes an ill-timed re-appearence for Nancy just as it looks like Donald is about to propose. Someone has been threatening Sarah and she wants Nancy to find out before she marries serious money. The next day Sarah is dead, Donald is in it up to his neck, and Nancy is lurching from crisis to crisis as she tries to protect her man, evade the police, and find out who actually killed her friend. 

I loved this book for the way it shows 2 young women from outside of conventional society making their way up the social ladder on the fringes of bohemian post-war London. They meet working for a magazine publisher, they work their way up, go to parties, have affairs, and slowly reinvent themselves. Both women know it must be one of the men from Sarah's past who threatened her. Nancy knows it's someone she considered a friend, and maybe more, who must have killed her. 

The mystery is good, the clues are there for the reader to spot (I spotted the clues, but not quite the killer) and the characters, revealed in flashbacks, are nuanced and sympathetic, but it's the atmosphere and the friendship between Nancy and Sarah that make this so special. It's a view of the 1950s that I don't often see - and miles away from a Miss Marple vision. Nancy is a fast talker full of wisecracks and sarcasm - both women clearly live (or lived) by their own moral code which Bennett makes clear is just fine. For all the destruction Sarah's beauty leaves in its wake we never doubt her intrinsic loyalty or kindness, or the hard work that she's put into her magazine career. 

Bennett has Sarah make observations that feel important, but are too much of a spoiler to discuss here - but honestly, this has gone straight to the top of the list of my favourite books in this series and I absolutely encourage you to read it. 

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