Review: Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson

miss-treadway

About the Author

Miranda is an author and dramatist who grew up in London before studying English at Oxford and Playwriting Studies at Birmingham University. She now lives in the beautiful Vale of Glamorgan with her husband and two daughters.  Miranda is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4 (sometimes as Miranda Davies) and is currently undertaking a PhD in the history of BBC radio adaptation at Cardiff University.   Author Website

About the Book

Publisher Summary:

Soho, 1965.  In a tiny two-bed flat above a Turkish café on Neal Street lives Anna Treadway, a young dresser at the Galaxy Theatre.  When the American actress Iolanthe Green disappears after an evening’s performance at the Galaxy, the newspapers are wild with speculation about her fate.  But as the news grows old and the case grows colder, it seems Anna is the only person left determined to find out the truth.  Her search for the missing actress will take her into an England she did not know existed: an England of jazz clubs and prison cells, backstreet doctors and seaside ghost towns, where her carefully calibrated existence will be upended by violence but also, perhaps, by love.For in order to uncover Iolanthe’s secrets, Anna is going to have to face up to a few of her own…

368 pages, publication date 12 January 2017

My rating: 5 (out of 5)

My review:

I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and HarperCollins UK/4th Estate in return for an honest review.

This was a great read that would keep you entertained for hours on a train or plane journey.  At first, it seems like it’s going to be a straightforward period detective mystery but there are a number of elements that, as you read on, raise it to another level.  Firstly, the authentic feel of the period setting.  This is the England of homes without central heating, smoke-filled bars and buses, seedy clubs, drugs, awful coffee, backstreet abortions and, most shockingly, homophobia and overt racism against black people, Irish people and basically anyone who is perceived as an outsider.  Secondly, Miranda Emmerson has created such a great cast of supplementary characters, including Ottmar, the Turkish café owner, and Aloysius, the Jamaican accountant.   It is no accident that the characters who help Anna in her search for Iolanthe are all outsiders and perhaps it’s the fact that Iolanthe is also an outsider that makes them care so much for her fate.  Lastly, this is such a multi-layered novel because underneath the simple mystery narrative are questions of identity and reinvention.   All the characters have either reinvented themselves, wish to reinvent themselves or are struggling to play a part they haven’t quite come to terms with.  There’s Anna, who admits “I tried to be someone and I failed” and is drawn to starting over anew; Sergeant Brennan Hayes, who changes his Christian name and accent to disguise his Irish origins (“His new voice commanded more respect, his new name spoke of privileged beginnings.  He didn’t belong anywhere, he was aware of this, but he looked like he belonged, sounded like he belonged”) ; his wife, Orla, who empathises with Iolanthe’s determination that “one part of your life needs to end and another to begin”  when she realises that Brennan “just wasn’t who I thought he was at all”;  and Aloysius, who has moved to London because he is “in love with the idea of England” but the England of Dickens, which turns out to be a far cry from reality he experiences.    I was really impressed with this book.  At the end, there are questions unanswered but I’d like to think these were not unintended loose ends but deliberate on the part of the author or (even better) threads to be woven into a future book.

In three words: Authentic, engaging, satisfying

To read a Q&A with the author, click here

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