Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Guest Book Review: Cynthia Harrod-Eagles - Goodbye Piccadilly

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

In 1914, Britain faces a new kind of war. For Edward and Beatrice Hunter, their children, servants and neighbours, life will never be the same again. 

For David, the eldest, war means a chance to do something noble; but enlisting will break his mother's heart. His sister Diana, nineteen and beautiful, longs for marriage. She has her heart set on Charles Wroughton, son of Earl Wroughton, but Charles will never be allowed to marry a banker's daughter. Below stairs, Cook and Ada, the head housemaid, grow more terrified of German invasion with every newspaper atrocity story. Ethel, under housemaid, can't help herself when it comes to men and now soldiers add to the temptation; yet there's more to this flighty girl than meets the eye. 

The once-tranquil village of Northcote reels under an influx of khaki volunteers, wounded soldiers and Belgian refugees. The war is becoming more dangerous and everyone must find a way to adapt to this rapidly changing world.

Amazon links: Kindle or Paperback 

Goodbye Piccadilly is the first in the new War at Home series by Cynthia Harrod Eagles. Admittedly before Sharon sent me this to review I had never heard of the author but I love reading historical fiction or novels that have a time slip element and I  really enjoyed my introduction to the Hunter family and the residents of Northcote. The author had previously written over 30 plus novels in the Moorland Dynasties series which spanned a huge time period so she is well qualified to write about war and its devastating impact on the lives of ordinary people.

Being the first novel there was an awful lot of setting up to do with the introduction of all the main characters and the various strands of the story so the majority of this book focused on the months leading up to the war and it’s outbreak. This book is not action packed as the author is not rushing to tell her story within one book. Rather she knows we have all read about the causes World War 1 and how it panned out, here she chooses to focus on the day to day lives of a middle class family and a small village and how their lives were changed forever.

Having so many characters to become familiar with it did take me awhile to get into this book. On the first few pages there is a family tree of the Hunter family which was very helpful but I do think a page with all the other various characters from the village and London would have been useful as well. Goodbye Piccadilly shows how the war affected all aspects of society from the gentry Lord and Lady Wroughton, the middle class banking family – the Hunters and the lower classes and servants.

Not one section of society was not touched by the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria.  The Hunter family are the main focus of this novel and all other strands of the story are interconnected with theirs. Beatrice and Edward Hunter have six children Sadie, Diana, David, Bobby, Peter and William and are happy living in Northcote but times are changing. Before this fateful event the Hunters had been leading relatively normal lives and facing everyday problems of the time – who should Diana marry (will Charles Wroughton fall for her affections), should Sadie be sent abroad to finishing school (or spend her time caring for horses which are her passion), will David or Bobby finish their college education? But all their dreams and plans are shattered as war arrives upon their doorstep.

There are far too many characters and storylines to go into in this review but the author certainly does an excellent job of setting the scene for what’s to come. It was clever to specifically focus the story on one family but yet she was also able to highlight the general feeling at the time and how the upper classes right down to the ordinary decent working men of the village were all touched by events which happened so far away from their ordinary everyday lives. Slowly bit by bit the tension is built up as people start to realise war is not just a figment of their imagination but is now a reality as men are called to serve and constraints are placed upon food supplies and everyday needs. David Hunter – the eldest son enlists and so do many men from the village and soon they are sent to training camps to begin preparations. Even at this stage the naivety of the people was conveyed very well, they believed the war would be finished by Christmas and everyone would be home safe and well. This is hard to read as we know those aspirations were short lived and war raged on for four long difficult years.

People often forget there were lots of other things going on in the world at this time and the author slipped in events like they were regular occurrences and I suppose they were for people at the time. These events such as Ernest Shackleton setting off to explore the South Pole, Ireland’s fight for Home Rule and the Howth Gun Running were all things which I had learned about in history classes so to read characters opinions and viewpoints was really interesting. Parts of the book were quite slow as if everybody is just waiting and waiting for something to happen and I felt a bit like that too but the story did move on towards the end and left me wanting more. The one light relief in the book was the Hunter’s dog Nailer - a faithful companion to Sadie who got up to plenty of mischief and offered numerous comedic moments at times when the tension could have become unbearable. Hopefully there is more to come from Nailer in future books.

If you love reading historical fiction then you won’t go wrong with Goodbye Piccadilly, a perfect introduction to what promises to be an interesting, engrossing series following the highs and lows of the Hunter family and how they cope with World War One. This book really only touched the surface  and gave us glimpses as to what the future holds. The book ends at a very significant point in the war leaving no doubt that there is plenty more to come in the story of the Hunters and the residents of Northcote and I for one will be eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Many thanks to Sharon for sending me Goodbye Piccadilly to review.

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