Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Woman in the Woods - Lee Blackstock

First published 1957.

Opening line: The sibilant whisper of a young pupil came clearly to Brennan's ears as he sorted out the exercise books on his desk.

Lee Blackstock (1888 - unknown) was just one of the pseudonyms of Ursula Torday, who also wrote as Charity Blackstock. She seems to have started writing late in life, with The Woman in the Woods being a relatively early title in her extensive body of work (she wrote some 40-odd books under her various pseudonyms).

I really enjoyed this book, which is set in a small English village in the 1950s. The characters seemed very real, especially Brennan, the Irish school teacher with a quick temper and an unrequited love for the widowed Nicole, and Daniel, Nicole's crippled son who is confined to his bedroom and invents people to keep him company.

When the body of a woman is found by two of Brennan's students in the woods, it doesn't take long before the entire village realises who she is: Queenie, the earthy-but-friendly woman from London who appeared in their village one year ago and just as suddenly disappeared, but not before touching many of their lives.

The murderer of Queenie is revealed early on: the village doctor, who had murdered Queenie's little sister. Queenie came to the village to avenge her sister, only to be murdered herself. Mike, a gifted student of Brennan's, believes Dr Heslop is guilty and begins to tail him, following him everywhere and generally driving him crazy. Daniel, meanwhile, is sitting in his bed, talking with the imaginary "Miss Fenny", who he met in the garden one year ago. Dr Heslop, another admirer of Daniel's mother, is a frequent visitor at the house and begins to realise that Daniel may know too much...

This is a well written mystery, with a great gradual build-up of tension and atmosphere. I finished it the day I started it, even forgoing meals, and was not disappointed in any way.

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