Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Miss Treadway & the Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett, (http://barbarascottemmett.blogspot.co.uk/) author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and The Man with the Horn.

What We Thought:
It is 1965 and Anna Treadway, a theatre dresser, lives above a Turkish Cypriot cafe in Covent Garden. Her boss, a theatre impressario who is (illegally, for the time) gay, also lives there. One night Iolanthe Green, an American actress working in London, goes missing after leaving the theatre. Speculation is rife and the story dominates the news for a short time.

The authorities soon lose interest in the case, however. Brennan Hayes, the detective sergeant (who has changed his name to Barnaby to sound less Irish), is hamstrung by his boss’s insistence that the ‘stupid woman has done herself in’ and it’s pointless wasting too much effort on her. Worried that Iolanthe’s disappearance is no longer news, Anna starts to make her own enquiries. In the course of her somewhat erratic investigations in the underground music clubs favoured by Iolanthe, she meets Aloyisius, a Jamaican accountant who agrees to help her.

As the unlikely pair trawl through the underbelly of Swingin’ London they suffer racist behaviour, face police brutality, and encounter back-street abortionists. At one point they are mistaken for prostitute and pimp – for why else would a white woman associate with a black man? All the prejudices of this newly enlightened time are laid bare. People are afraid to speak out because they have something to hide or something to lose. And it seems Anna, too, has her secrets. Meanwhile, Iolanthe is still missing, Barnaby’s marriage is disintegrating and Ottmar, the Turkish cafe owner is having trouble with his freedom-demanding daughter.

Though it exposes the bleakness that hid beneath the gaiety of the 60s, Miss Treadway & the Field of Stars is certainly not all misery. There is warmth and compassion here, and humour. Miranda Emmerson’s writing is glorious, the dialogue and characterisation superb and the background details spot on. This is a wonderful portrayal of a society in upheaval. Attitudes may be changing, women may be breaking free, understanding of other cultures and lifestyles is on the horizon, and a love affair may be developing between Anna and Aloyisius. Let’s hope we never go back to the dark impoverished days when such things were too shocking to contemplate.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Her Turn to Cry by Chris Curran, Ghost Town by Catriona Troth

Avoid if you dislike: Human beings and all their wonderful frailties.

Ideal accompaniments: Turkish coffee with a shot of something bracing in it.

Genre: Literary Mystery

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