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by Laura Wilson
Orion, June 2004
304 pages
ISBN: 0752859803

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In October 1940, London is a sleep-deprived city due to frequent air-raids. This story of events over just a few weeks is told by three alternating first person narrators, whose different perceptions are shaped by their age and circumstances.

West End prostitutes are being brutally assaulted and murdered. Yes, this is a historical serial killer novel of sorts, but please don't let that put you off. The main focus of the novel is less on violent death and gore than on the fears and worries of the characters, ranging from trivia to the truly terrifying.

Jim is a fighter pilot, one of a group of very young men publicly glorified and glamorised as heroes. He has been fascinated and excited by planes since childhood, and when he first got to fly, felt incredibly powerful. Now, though, the possibility and even likelihood of death is a terrifying reality, as several of his colleagues fail to return from flying missions. He is looking for another kind of thrill in picking up women in central London's Soho, but it isn't sex he has in mind.

Rene is a prostitute in the West End. She is scared of being caught in the air raids, and frightened by the brutal deaths of several of the women she knows in the same profession. How else, though, can she pay her rent and bills and give her sister money for her son's keep?

Lucy is a 21-year-old secretary, whose sleep and journey home from work are regularly interrupted by the air raids. Family life at home in Clapham is tense and Lucy has a lot to think about. Rene and Lucy both have the same type of coat, and some superficial resemblance in appearance, but of course they are totally different kinds of women, or are they? Both face worries about day-to-day work and family concerns, while carrying on their lives in the face of the bombs.

The plot of the story, such as it is, hinges on the characters seeing, encountering and finally meeting each other, as they all take refuge in the Soho Square air raid shelter. THE LOVER is not a whodunit as we know who is killing the women quite early on, and although there is some suspense, a few moments when I wanted to warn characters not to do things, for me this was not the most important aspect of THE LOVER either.

Many historical novelists spend far too much time describing streets, clothes and objects to remind the reader that the book she is reading is set in the past. THE LOVER works very well as an evocation of people reacting to a situation at the time when it was set, a historical novel about wartime states of mind not period detail. It is an edgy, unsettling, thought-provoking crime novel.

Reviewed by Luci Davin, July 2004

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