Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Emma's Review: The House Across the Street by Lesley Pearse

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Twenty-three year old Katy Speed is fascinated by the house across the street. The woman who lives there, Gloria, is the most glamorous neighbour on the avenue, owning a fashionable dress shop in Bexhill-on-Sea. But who is the woman who arrives in the black car most Saturdays while Gloria is at work? Sometimes she brings women to the house, other times they have children.

Hilda, Katy's mother, disapproves of Gloria. She wonders if these mysterious visitors have just been released from prison. Is Gloria secretly bringing criminals, or worse, into the heart of the community?

Then one night, the house burns down. In the wreckage, the bodies of Gloria and her daughter are found. Katy is sure the unexplained visitors must be responsible until her father is arrested and charged with murder. Have the police arrested the correct person? Are the rest of the street safe? Can Katy find the truth before it's too late?

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Many thanks to Penguin UK for my copy via NetGalley of The House Across the Street to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

The House Across the Street is the twenty fifth novel from one of my all time favourite authors Lesley Pearse. What an incredible achievement to ave written twenty five books and to be still very much on top of your game in publishing books that readers can't wait to get their hands on as each new book is a highlight in my reading calendar. Each year I eagerly look forward to a new book from Lesley as she never fails to disappoint in providing her long term fans with stories that will reel you in from the very first page and quickly have you deeply invested in the outcome for the characters involved.

This time our attentions turn to 1964 in Bexhill-on-Sea where our main character Katy lives with her parents Hilda and Albert, her brother Rob is away at university. Instantly Katy seemed a likeable character living at a time when great changes were on the horizon. Society and the general attitude towards women were expanding in that more and more women were working outside the home, taking risks and exploring all the new fashions, trends and music that the swinging sixties had to offer. That's not to say that all aspects of women's lives were filled with happiness and contentment. Katy can see the shift in people's ways of thinking and she can visualise all the world has to offer her, she knows she needs to broaden her horizons but the one thing stopping her is the situation and feeling that exists at home. This has been ongoing for sometime and when a devastating event occurs right on her doorstep maybe this just might be the push she needs to instigate said changes in her life.

Katy is a very observant person and the more we got to know her it seemed evident to me that there was elements of her character where she was a young woman ahead of her times. Yet she couldn't fully express this due to the constraints, reprimands and out downs enforced by her mother. She works in a local solicitors office as a secretary and has an inquisitive nature. The sheer guts, determination, courage and strong will she has were show cased several times over the more the story developed. But it is her keen sense of observation and astuteness that will stand in good stead to her. The family are abruptly awoken one night as the house across the street goes up in flames. What's worse the following morning two bodies are taken from the burnt out shell that remains. Gloria Reynolds, owner of a boutique in the town, and her daughter are the victims. It soon becomes apparent that the fire was no accident and had been set deliberately. But why and who were the women that used to come and go from Gloria's house emerging from a car driven by another woman?

It's all so strange and Katy is well aware of all these comings and goings as are the other residents of the street. As Katy attempts to put the fire to the back of her mind she travels to London with her best friend Jilly to attend an interview in the hopes of starting a new stage in her life. But on her return her plans, hopes and dreams are cruelly shattered as her father Albert has been arrested and is being investigated for the murder of Gloria and her daughter. Surely he couldn't have been the one who set the fire? I will admit I had my suspicions as to who could have been responsible for the fire and when it was revealed I was disappointed in myself that I had felt this way about a character as I was very much proven wrong.

What follows is Katy's search for the truth. So many questions that need answering, justice needs to be serviced before an innocent man has his good reputation destroyed. What infuriated me was that Hilda wasn't as gung ho like Katy in seeking the truth. She came up with implausible reasons why her husband could have done it and it was just silly, surely you are meant to stand by the man you love? Katy showed the kind, caring and loving side to her. I loved how she never ever gave up in her quest no matter how difficult and dangerous the path she delved down became. Things took on a dark and sinister turn as she discovered the real reason Gloria had so many women coming to her house and I think it was brilliant to see this topic being dealt with in this book as at the time it was kept a very much dark secret and a taboo subject that many turned a blind eye to. Many people believed that what was happening to women should be allowed to happen and that they should put up with it. Gloria, even though unfortunately we never get to know her, was a person who should have been respected and admired for all that she did no matter how dangerous it was. Sadly though this was to cost her her life.

The book racked up the suspense and tension the more Katy delves deeper into a world I think she would have preferred being better off out of as the more she discovers, the more horrified she becomes. Charles, the young barrister she met whilst getting to know her new place of work in London, seemed helpful and I enjoyed seeing a spark develop between himself and Katy. She was spreading her wings but at the same time her quest to clear her Dad's name was always at the forefront of her mind. Heading back to London may provide her with some of the answers she needs. As Katy starts to uncover secrets someone very much wants hidden the book became quite dark and frankly quite terrifying.

My only issue with this book was that I felt we found out far too early who the culprit was and once that was the case, although awful things occur and there was a sense of desperation to solve things before it was too late, I just felt the reveal came too early and there wasn't really any place to go with the story once this had happened and some of the later parts felt ever so slightly flat. I would have loved a few more twists and turns and going down various paths to find the culprit only to reach dead ends and they had to start all over again. In one way I understand why the reveal was early as it set up different storylines and showcased an even different side to Katy's nature. At one point I did think would she really have talked and acted this way around a certain character that makes themselves known? But on the other hand I do strongly think an even greater level of tension would have existed if the identity and reasons would have remained a mystery for even longer.

Hilda really was a character who I could not warm to at all at any stage in this book, she wasn't in the least bit a motherly figure to Katy or Rob. Instead it was almost like the family, Albert included, lived in fear of doing something which would set Hilda off. She had a sharp tongue and offered no positive words. She was cold and hard with a heart made of stone and no wonder Katy felt the desperate need to escape and forge her own path in life. I really couldn't understand how Albert put up with her and didn't turn tail and run even when things got extremely bad and the family were getting a bad name and reputation due to the ongoing events, Hilda just sat there and didn't say a word. She should have come out and supported her family as when the going gets tough that's the time when family should stick together. There was definitely something very off about her and the way she was written and the manner in which she interacted with her family made me really dislike her.

The House Across the Street was an interesting and engrossing read which gave plenty of food for thought. There are innumerable talking points and I think it's themes will generate much discussion not to mention some of the characters who will definitely get your hackles up whilst others you have the greatest of sympathy for. The author deals with a difficult subject matter very well and doesn't spare any details or sugar coat the topic and this has always been the case with all of her previous books. I did find the very end deeply satisfying as I felt the characters and the themes explored in the book had come full circle and it was almost like a legacy was being passed down and continued. I think Never Look Back will always remain my utmost favourite book by Lesley Pearse and I think many others will agree with me as it was recently voted the fans favourite but The House Across the Street is a very good read which will please old and new readers to Lesley's work. I'm sad I'm finished reading this book and will have to wait another year to read more from this wonderful author.

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