Book name: The Other Mrs Walker
Author: Mary Paulson-Ellis
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Format: ebook, print, audiobook
Genre: Murder mystery
Publication Date: 2016
Star Rating: 3/5
The Other Mrs Walker was Paulson-Ellis’s debut novel. The pain and tragedy of a lonely death in a freezing Edinburgh flat is laid bare both in 2011 when the book is set, but also decades earlier as the author explores the family instability that led inexorably to this conclusion.
In London in 1925, Dorothea and Alfred Walker have their first child, Clementine. As their family expands, the couple become no strangers to tragedy. Their twins die when still young, sending Dorothea into a spiral of mental illness from which she never recovers.
With Alfred’s disappearance in the run up to war and Dorothea’s illness, a well-meaning stranger, Mary Penny, moves in and takes care of Clementine and the remaining children, a further set of twins, Ruby and Barbara.
In Edinburgh in 2011, Margaret Penny has moved back in with her mother, Barbara. It is quickly clear to the reader that both Barbaras are the same individual. Margaret gets a job searching for relatives of people who have died.
She investigates the personal history of the old woman who has died, who she later identifies as Clementine. This is in fact her aunt and Dorothea was her grandmother.
The Other Mrs Walker was a confident debut novel. The flashbacks that lead the reader to identify Barbara and Clementine are deftly handled.
These unfold alongside Margaret’s dogged investigations into the identity of the dead woman, which of course dovetail into each other as the family link is established.
The characterisation was strong. I received a vivid sense of the Walker children, all five since this included the two twins who died in infancy.
Dorothea was an immensely sympathetic character, and what came across clearly was just how heavy a burden a life of poverty and a large family in the Thirties represented for her.
The Other Mrs Walker had a fascinating plot. I did guess pretty early on how it all fitted together, but frankly it wasn’t particularly difficult to do. There is always some loosening of narrative tension whenever the conclusion of a novel becomes evident partway through.
However, this enabled me to concentrate on the characters and their emotional challenges. These were very raw, and The Other Mrs Walker was both painfully optimistic and searingly honest about the tragedies that led across the decades to Clementine’s death.
I enjoyed The Other Mrs Walker very much. For well-written, character-driven general fiction, it is highly recommended.
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