Friday, 7 June 2013

#50books2013 A Commonplace Killing - Sian Busby

There are no winners in this book - each narrator has a sad story to tell and Sian Busby's evocative style will draw you right into their lives. Set in bleak, grey post-war London, the characters are all doing their best to navigate themselves through the depressing, mutilated landscape of both London and their own emotions.

Lillian Frobisher lived a life of freedom during the war, only to be brought crashingly back to earth when her husband returned into a life of drudgery, struggling to make ends meet on meagre rations - always hankering after the forbidden luxuries denied to her whilst trying to remain respectable. In post-war Britain she is described by some as a scarlet woman, yet what she yearns for is what a modern woman would take for granted. The character of Policewoman Tring is perhaps a little more hopeful - although she is usually reduced to driving around the men of the force and, like Lillian, is expected to magic up sustenance (in the form of tea and sandwiches) from nowhere.

Busby also explores the scorn towards those men who did not go to war - who played a different part and the damage sustained by those who did. An unlikely parallel is drawn between Dennis, a criminal, and Cooper, the principal detective on the case. Two men both permanently damaged by their experiences of war, neither with any hope for the future. Rather like London itself, suffering under the weight of a crime wave as ordinary people struggle to gain some sense of self by turning to the black market for items advertised on billboards, unobtainable by legal means.

Although the novel liberally draws on the traditions of detective fiction - the lone detective figure, Cooper and some real noir elements - really  the novel is less about solving the mystery and more about communicating the bleak nature of post war London - and this is something Busby does expertly. It doesn't make for an uplifting read, it's got to be said, but if you want to really feel what it was like to long for something other than spam, powdered egg and stale bread - whislt fielding propaganda telling you that you should be happy to be at peace, eating the healthiest way you ever had then this is the place to start.

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