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by Judith Cutler
Allison and Busby, October 2004
288 pages
ISBN: 0749083565

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Lina Townend is 20. She lives in a cute Kent village with her beloved guardian Griff, an elderly gay actor-turned antiques dealer. She's escaped a difficult childhood and is finally learning a trade, having discovered a talent for restoring damaged antiques.

Lina's at an antiques fair when she spots an old frontispiece from a valuable book that triggers memories of the family she never knew. So she sets off round Kent trying to track down the house that she sees in the flashbacks. Someone is not too enamoured of this, though, and she and Griff are attacked and their house broken into. And a mysterious Ford Focus and a bloke wearing a hoodie always seem to be around at the wrong time.

Cutler's strength is in giving her characters an appealing voice. Griff teeters on the edge of cliche, but the affection for him in the writing just saves it. Lina, too, has that voice, but it's patchy -- in fact, she sounds too much like Cutler's other heroines from the Birmingham books. And this is supposed to be a 20-year-old without much education, who periodically admits she doesn't understand such and such a word. OK, so she'd use words like 'dinning', then, without an ironic comment on how it's a word Griff has taught her? I don't think so!

I have mixed feelings about Cutler as a writer. She's lively and perky, but she's like the person you're always edging away from at parties who insists on telling you everything in excessive detail and who always keeps a hold on your arm! This 301-page story could have been hacked back by a good 30 pages without losing anything. I mean, do we need half a page of repetition on Lina emptying some rancid milk down a drain outside?

The plot is serviceable, if in need of a firmer hand, and the book has a good feel for the antiques world and for those idyllic Kent villages with their white wooden exteriors. But you may find yourself being asked to suspend disbelief towards the end (no, I don't think Lina is Superwoman, personally!) The book's likable and perfectly diverting, though, if you can forgive the over-writing and put up with the fact that Cutler takes you three times round the houses to get you there.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, November 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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