The Other Mrs Walker is the accomplished debut novel from Mary Paulson-Ellis. The author was kind enough to answer some questions for my blog recently and you can read more about her here: Author Spotlight I don’t often compare authors so I hope Ms Paulson-Ellis won’t mind if I say I was reminded of Kate Atkinson’s writing, with a similar ability to weave mystery, suspense and family secrets. [Since I wrote that, I have re-read the author interview and see that’s what the publishers say too!]
Mrs Walker has been found dead in her freezing cold Edinburgh flat having lain there without being discovered for several weeks. The trouble is, no-one really knows who she is, not even a first name. Margaret Penny, fleeing a failed relationship in London, has reluctantly returned to her mother Barbara’s tiny Edinburgh flat having nowhere else to go. She finds a job trying to trace any relatives or estate of indigent people – those people who die with no apparent money or relations. Her mother is on the indigent mourners list, one of a few who will attend a funeral where the deceased may have no other mourners. Margaret’s first assignment is to trace who exactly Mrs Walker is. But that is easier said than done. From present day Edinburgh, Margaret’s search takes her to London and the reader is taken back and forward in time discovering more about the Walkers and the Pennys. And they are both families with so many secrets carefully concealed. ‘Leave no trace’ seems to have been the family motto and this motto has been conscientiously adhered to, making Margaret’s task so difficult.
I found this to be a very intriguing read, cleverly written. There are so many glimpses into the lives of the Walkers and Pennys at various points in time as the story moves from Margaret’s investigations back to the London of the 1920s and onwards. As the reader starts to find out with Margaret the little that she can glean from the sparse clues Mrs Walker has left behind, simultaneously we find out first hand what was happening with the family. The fragments of the story are carefully pieced together as the narrative moves from present to past and back again. This is a complex read, very absorbing and an impressive debut from a writer I will be keen to read more from in the future.
The Other Mrs Walker was published in hardback and as an ebook by Pan MacMillan on 10th March 2016. My copy was from my local library. You can order a copy here: The Other Mrs Walker
From the back of the book
Somehow she’d always known that she would end like this. In a small square room, in a small square flat. In a small square box, perhaps. Cardboard, with a sticker on the outside. And a name . .
In a freezing, desolate Edinburgh flat an old woman takes her last breath surrounded by the few objects she has accrued over a lifetime: an emerald dress, a brazil nut engraved with the ten commandments – and six orange pips sucked dry.
Meanwhile, guided by the flip of a coin, Margaret Penny arrives back at her old family home, escaping a life in London recently turned to ash. Faced with relying on a resentful mother she has never really known, Margaret soon finds herself employed by the Office for Lost People, tasked with finding the families of the dead: the neglected, the abandoned, the lost. Her instructions are to uncover paperwork, yet the only thing Mrs Walker, the old woman in her current case, left behind is a series of peculiar objects.
But in the end it is these objects that will unravel Mrs Walker’s real story: a story rooted in the London grime and moving from the 1930s to the present day, a story of children abandoned and lost, of beguiling sisters and misplaced mothers, of deception and thievery, family secrets and the very deepest of betrayals; in which the extraordinary circular nature of life will glitter from the page. For in uncovering the astonishing tale of an old woman who died alone, Margaret will finally discover her own story too . . .