The Truth in a Lie by Jan Turk Petrie – Contemporary relationships in all their complexity

The Truth in a Lie by Jan Turk Petrie

 

Contemporary relationships can be complex, and families have secrets which go back over many years. This subtle and intelligent book takes a situation that many of us can understand, the illness of a parent, a nightmare journey in appalling weather, and a desire to discover something of the past. Charlotte is a writer, keen to grasp at the truth and aware that she has had difficult relationships in the past. That is not only the obvious situation with Michael, but also with Duncan, her ex husband, and her mother. Her most worrying relationship is with Kate, her daughter, as she is aware that her own instability is having a marked effect on Kate’s studies. This is a remarkable book as the author is so good at the little details, the food and drink, the furniture of various rooms, even the quality of light. The dialogue is also convincing, as it effectively reveals much about the person speaking, their attitudes and their relationships. I have been fortunate enough to read two of Petrie’s other novels, both set in the mid twentieth century, and have admired her ability to create a sense of place and time. I am impressed that her skill at setting the place and sense of people has translated to a contemporary novel, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book. 

 

This book begins in London 2018, as Charlotte moves out of the house that she and Kate have shared with Michael. While it has been a relatively amicable break up, Charlotte is aware that she is walking away from a significant part of her life, and making a new start in a very different home. When Duncan turns up she is thrown, but not only by his arrival, as the call comes through from the hospital that her mother is very ill. The description of waiting in the hospital is so accurate, and what subsequently happens is so believable, that it makes the rest of the book really powerful. The way that relationships emerge, old secrets brought out and new perspectives are created shows that this is a  cleverly constructed narrative that has much to say about Charlotte’s relationship with her mother, who it appears has a more complex background than was first apparent. Charlotte feels that she needs to find out what went on, and the writer’s imagination means that she can more than hazard a guess at some of the pressures on the woman she remembers from growing up. Her own relationship with Kate is dominated by an urge to protect, to  allow her freedom. There are some surprises to come, but they are all totally realistic, and emerge from the rest of the narrative. 

 

I found this an engaging story with so many aspects of life that are realistic and well realised. The character of Charlotte is so realistic as she narrates her story, noticing the small things as well as the dramatic moments. This is a book that I feel accurately portrays the complexities of modern relationships and life, and I recommend it as a solid engaging read.    

 

As I said above, this is the third of Petrie’s books that I have read, and I must say that I am a fan! I wondered about a historical novelist turning to a contemporary story, but I found this book so compelling that I finished it in two sittings. I think that the author only finished this book during lockdown, so I am hoping that she is already coming up with a new idea!

Towards the Vanishing Point by Jan Turk Petrie – women’s choices in mid twentieth century Britain

Towards the Vanishing Point by Jan Turk Petrie

 

The power of friendship is often the subject of novels; rarely is it so wrapped up in the plot that it powers much of the believable tension throughout the book. Beginning in 1938 with two small girls forming a friendship that will last for many years, it is a dominant theme which runs through a book with immense atmosphere and an appreciation for setting that makes it an excellent read. The author has created characters who linger in the mind in all their nuances and behaviour. Not that they are fixed; the wartime setting affects the relationships of many young people in terms of love and loss. Another theme is domestic violence, proving that it is not only a modern problem but that it has afflicted women and men for many years. This novel is a strong witness to the loyalty of friends in challenging times, and the way that families affect relationships in a small area. Beautifully descriptive and intense, this is a well paced and well written book. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent historical novel.

 

The book is largely set in the North of England, where two small girls are partners in a three legged race. Stella is determined to win, but Lily eventually realises that winning is important, learning from her more confident friend. They discover a book which will shade their view of relationships for years; growing up is very much presented as a time of learning. As the bombs fall in 1941, the slightly older Lily hears gossip about women and babies which shocks and leaves her with a view of women’s life. Another scene is later in the war when the two young women meet airmen who are actually fighting in the battles which were so important to the country, with two different outcomes. Stella’s life is transformed by that night, leaving her with decisions and responsibility that she has never previously imagined. Lily’s meeting will end differently, and also change her life for a long time.  

 

As the two young women’s families leave them with different circumstances, the story of Will Bagshaw emerges. His second wife has just died in slightly suspicious circumstances, and he soon fixes his attention on Lily, who has felt left out. This meeting and subsequent events tests the friendship between the young women, but what will be the outcome of this complex situation?

 

This is a mature book which looks carefully at the variability of relationships against a background of war and peace, with questions of love in various forms. Women’s lives are thoughtfully examined, as they respond to the problems of life in a society which has been permanently changed by war. The buildings, the houses that the people live in, are brilliantly described, the ways that people live respectable lives in the shadow of change, are so well realised. This is a novel of people in a very detailed way, but also of place. The particular events of the book, the increase of tension, the way the action evolves, only takes place because of the nature of the houses, the way people live, and the build up to the suspenseful ending. I enjoyed the style and plot of this book, a slow burner, with a pace that allows for the development of character. A remarkable book which has a fine plot, it is recommended to many fans of historical fiction set in the mid twentieth century.      

 

 This is a fairly quick read, if only because the suspense towards the end of the book is terrific. Staying in at the moment means I am tackling a lot of books, but not necessarily finishing them! Mind you, “The Other Bennett Sister” by Janice Hadlow is so big and so carefully written that it takes a long time to read, but it is the perfect dependable distraction. I do have rather a soft spot for Pride and Prejudice sequels and associated books, and I am enjoying it, but so far no major revelations! 

Too Many Heroes by Jan Turk Petrie – a post war thriller with real impact

 

In 1952 Britain was still a disturbed place, with criminal interests, wartime mistakes and social pressures. This thriller brilliantly immerses the reader in a post war world through the eyes of Frank, who has several guilty secrets. As he does temporary jobs and leaves suddenly, he seems resigned to living a life on the move, with hints of his past. This world is typified by dirty side streets, smoke filled pubs and dubious characters. The summer heat is relentless in the centre of London as pennies are eked out for small treats, and a fake beach attracts so many. Relationships are somehow bitter and fearful. The research behind this book is impeccable and the realisation of the themes is so convincing as to draw in the reader, especially as the tension ratchets up with accusations of guilt forming a significant element of the book. As Frank moves around London it is almost as if a camera follows him, and Grace’s small actions contribute to a sense of her character. This is a book of deep feeling anchored in harsh circumstances, and the writing really made me care about the outcomes for the characters. I felt really involved in this narrative, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.

 

The book opens in June 1942, when Frank is in the rear turret of a British bomber plane. While returning from a raid, the plane is hit and everyone is in danger, and Frank is especially vulnerable in a nearly separate section of the aircraft. The plane is trying to land as the prologue length section ends. We next see Frank nearly ten years later, sleeping in a barn and working hard on a farm. He has changed his name and finds himself in conflict with a gamekeeper, who mysteriously suffers a life changing injury just as Frank chooses to move on. The scene moves to a house where Grace is dealing with her difficult mother. She resolves to return to London, despite her realisation that her husband’s letter asking her to return is less than genuine. Frank is working hard in a pub, running the bars as the landlord Dennis finds other things to do. When Grace returns to the pub they feel a mutual attraction, and amidst the shabby and grey rooms they inhabit they begin to act on it. Frank’s bravery and quick thinking draws attention to him in a not altogether positive way; he begins to think of disguises and varying his routine. As Dennis’ actions cause tension, it begins to feel that London is a dangerous place.

 

I found this book enthralling and exciting, as it drew me in to a time of threat and unfairness in contrast to the notion of a jolly peace time. The author’s undoubted ability to create an atmosphere of threat from in depth research, a sense of place and a true understanding of character makes this a memorable read. The plot is well worked out and holds together in all details. I enjoyed the character of Grace particularly as she comes to realise the truth of her situation. This book dispels some of the illusions of a positive post war society, and I enjoyed its honesty. I recommend this to all fans of thrillers with real human characters in a historical setting.