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ONE PUZZLING AFTERNOON
by Emily Critchley
Sourcebooks Landmark, October 2023
343 pages
$16.99
ISBN: 1728287162


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

ONE PUZZLING AFTERNOON is a mystery on a couple of different levels. The most obvious is the question of what happened to Lucy Theddle, who disappeared from her small British town in 1951. A more unusual mystery is that of what is happening in Edie Green's mind in 2018, as she tries to figure out where Lucy went all those years ago even as she descends deeper and deeper into dementia. Over the course of the book, we move between the two timeframes, as does Edie. She struggles to remember details from the past, as she harbors a belief that by solving Lucy's decades-old disappearance, she can convince her family that her mind is not in a "muddle." However, she IS truly in a muddle in 2018, making the sequences that take place in 1951 the only entirely clear narrative.

Edie and Lucy's friendship in the 50s is one between classes, and Lucy (upper class) befriends Edie (lower class) out of need for her silence and assistance. They become mutually interdependent, and the crossing of class lines ultimately results in the events behind Lucy's disappearance. In the two young girls and their relationship, Critchley creates strongly developed characters that we come to care about. Many of the supporting characters are wrought finely enough that they transcend their beginnings as simply background to the girls' stories. Others remain caricatures that help ground the book in its two time frames.

The book has a prologue/epilogue structure that seemed superfluous to me. As is often the case with books that begin with a prologue, I went back to reread it after finishing the book, and it made a great deal more sense read that way. It also included a nearly word-for-word copy of some of the text from the conclusion of the book. The epilogue jumps to 1954 and gives us an image of Edie after Lucy has disappeared. The epilogue works as a sort of bridge between the unreliability of witnesses after a disappearance and the unreliability of experience in dementia patients, but the author has already made her point effectively throughout the book.

I'm not sure that anyone truly knows what goes through the mind of a character who is losing their memory, but Critchley provides us with one possibility. Some of the writing about Edie's "muddles" is humorous at the start of the book, confusing in the middle, and comforting at the end. Critchley places us inside Edie's mind as she endures the flowing and mixing of threads from both her present life as an octogenarian and her past life as a teenager. It's a disorienting place to be, but one that ultimately results in the settling of the various puzzle pieces that have been bouncing around in Edie's mind into a clear picture of what happened to Lucy Theddle.

Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in Arizona.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, October 2023

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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