From my bookshelf


By Mary Paulson Ellis

     This book, another debut novel, won the Waterstones Scottish book of the year in 2017, was no. 3 in the Times Saturday bestseller list and was shortlisted for other awards.

     It is another unusual book, being billed as a detective story with no detective.  

    It opens in a flat, one evening, in Edinburgh in the opening days of the New Year as an elderly lady reaches the end of her life with a glass of whisky in her hand.  But who is she?     Her possessions consist mainly of an emerald dress with sequins, a Brazil nut with the 10 Commandments engraved on it and six orange pips sucked dry.   

    Margaret Penny arrives in the snow in Edinburgh on the overnight bus from London, also in the early days of the New Year on her way to see her mother, Barbara, whom she hasn't seen for many years.  But who is she?  Why did she leave London?

   With an uncertain future and no income, Margaret finds work looking into the lives of those  recently departed who seem to have no relations, with a view to returning possessions, sorting out the estates and so on and so on.

   Margaret is set the task of finding out about the women in the opening lines of the book.

   The book is set mostly in London and partly in Edinburgh, and across the years as the reader follows the lives of the Walker family and then the Penny family from before the second world war right up to the present day.   

   It is a story of family secrets and betrayals, of twists and turns.  It is full of connections and echoes, themes, threads and shadows running right through.  In some ways it is poetically written.

   Who are these women?  How did they come to be where they are?  Is there a connection between them, and if so, will they ever find it out? 

   I could hardly put the book down, it was almost mesmerising.  It has insights into life back then, with some of the hardships and misunderstandings people faced and some of the things they just had to do to survive. 

   I enjoyed it very much, and I hope you do too.


Yours, Lindsay