#BookReview A Little London Scandal by Miranda Emmerson

9780008244330About the Book

Nik felt the mistake in his bones. The man in the snakeskin suit reached down towards him and pulled Nik upright by the collar of his coat. Nik didn’t see what happened next but he felt the wall. He cried out and then someone hit him and he closed his eyes and waited for it to be over.

London, 1967. Nik Christou has been a rent boy since he was 15. He knows the ins and outs of Piccadilly Circus, how to spot a pretty policeman and to interpret a fleeting glance. One summer night his life is turned upside down, first by violence and then by an accusation of murder.

Anna Treadway, fleeing the ghosts of her past, works as a dresser in Soho’s Galaxy theatre. She has learned never to place too much trust in the long arm of the law and, convinced Nik is innocent, she determines to find him an alibi.

Merrian Wallis, devoted wife to an MP with a tarnished reputation, just wants proof that her husband couldn’t have been involved.

But how do you recognise the truth when everyone around you is playing a role – and when any spark of scandal is quickly snuffed out by those with power? As Anna searches for clues amongst a cast of MPs, actors, members of gentlemen’s clubs and a hundred different nightly clients, will anyone be willing to come forward and save Nik from his fate?

Format: Hardcover (288 pages) Publisher: 4th Estate
Publication date: 20th August 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction, crime

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My Review

I really enjoyed Miranda Emmerson’s debut novel, Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars. In fact, it was one of the first books I reviewed on this blog. Many of the characters from that book make a return in A Little London Scandal, although it works perfectly well as a standalone. There’s Ottmar, owner of the Alabora cafe, and the actors and backstage staff at the Galaxy Theatre where Anna works as a dresser. Sergeant Barnaby Hayes, whose partnership with Anna enabled them to solve the mystery at the heart of the first book, also returns although his involvement in that earlier case has not been without its consequences.

Anna’s boyfriend, Louis (or Aloysius if you’re being formal) has less of a starring role in this book, having returned to Jamaica on family business. Theirs is a long-distance relationship for the time being, conducted by means of the exchange of touching postcards and letters.

Anna’s innate sense of justice means she cannot stand by when Nik, whom she knows from the Alabora cafe, is arrested and charged with a murder she is convinced he did not commit. She enlists Barnaby’s help again and, alternating with the progress of their investigation, we learn the story of Nik’s troubled teenage years and adolescence. It takes the reader to some dark places inhabited by seedy individuals – about as much fun as the prospect of a colonoscopy.

Given Anna’s occupation, I liked how the theme of performance or playing a part is woven into the book. With homosexuality yet to be decriminalized, many are forced to hide their sexuality and to pretend to be something they are not for fear of arrest or blackmail. (It made me think of the film Victim starring Dirk Bogarde, who in reality led a somewhat double life.)

Merrian, wife of MP Richard Wallis, knows all about playing a part – the part of perfect wife and mother. She’s a really sympathetic, believable character who has sacrificed a lot in order to advance her husband’s career and present the outside world with the picture of a traditional family. What she knows, or suspects, about her husband’s secrets she keeps to herself until, she too, is drawn into Anna’s search for justice and shows unexpected mettle.

I loved the way Anna’s natural empathy, drawing on what we learn about her own troubled past, enabled her to gain Nik’s confidence and trust. And I admired her bold, if slightly reckless, willingness to take action.

The book perfectly captures the atmosphere of 1960s London – Carnaby Street, miniskirts, late night jazz clubs and coffee bars. (There’s even a scene in a Wimpy bar. Remember those?) The story takes the reader on a journey from exclusive gentlemen’s clubs, via Wormwood Scrubs and the nightlife haunts of down and outs and rent boys, to illicit music events on Eel Pie Island. (Incidentally, this is the second book I’ve read featuring Eel Pie Island as a location. The first was The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale by Rebecca Stonehill.)

The book has lovely little touches like the quirky chapter headings, my favourite being “Very Expensive Penguins”. (Sorry, Miranda, there was no way I could get Jerry’s third word into my review.)

A Little London Scandal combines an intriguing mystery with a vivid portrait of London at a time of change. I received an advance review copy courtesy of 4th Estate via NetGalley.

In three words: Spirited, stylish, colourful

Try something similar: A Messy Affair (Lena Szarka #3) by Elizabeth Mundy

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About the Author

Miranda Emmerson is a playwright and author living in Wales. She has written numerous drama adaptations for BBC Radio 4 as well as some highly-acclaimed original drama. Her debut novel, Miss Treadway and The Field of Stars, was published by 4th Estate in 2017.

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