Friday, November 6, 2020

Lesley Pearce - The House Across the Street

Twenty-three-year-old Katy Speed has always been fascinated by the house across the street. The
woman who lives there, Gloria, is the most glamorous neighbour on the avenue, owning a fashionable dress shop in Bexhill-on-Sea. But who is the woman who arrives in the black car most Saturdays while Gloria is at work? Sometimes she brings women to the house, and other times the women come with children.
Then one night, the house burns down. In the wreckage, the bodies of Gloria and her daughter are found. Katy is sure the unexplained strangers must be responsible, until her father is arrested and charged with murder.
Surely the police have arrested the wrong person? Is the rest of the street safe. Can Katy find the truth before it’s too late?

Comment: Lesley Pearce seems to be a prolific author and she apparently has real life events in her own life which heavily influenced the plots of her stories. Despite knowing this, this is the first book by her I try and I did so, not because I was really eager to read something by her, but after seeing this book in the feature shelf at my local library, I decided why not and got it. However, now that I finished (it took me a day, so simple it was to go through) I don't think I'll try more.

In this book we meet the Speed family, namely young 23 year old Katy, who is very much interested in the coming and going of women and children in the house across the street. That is often the topic of gossip but the house owner, Gloria, is a friendly neighbor and no one believes what is happening it against the law. One day, though, the house is on fire and, sadly, Gloria and her youngest daughter are killed. Somehow, the evidence points out to Katy's father as the potential responsible for the fire and the two deaths but Katy knows he wouldn't have done it. In the process of going to London to start a new job, Katy decides to do some investigation of her own, not knowing the real criminal is paying attention...

I think the way this book starts is quite intriguing and I was curious to see what would happen. I was, indeed, drawn to Katy's sunny disposition, to her loving relationship with her father and brother and how antagonistic things were with her mother.  I also could accept her natural curiosity over what was going on in the house across the street and why she felt like defending her father from the accusations after the fire. I think the set up was well done and I was interested in seeing what the author would do with this. The 60s setting didn't seem to be that important, though, and I think if the setting had been more contemporary, things would develop the same way.

I would say the problem, for me, started to be evident in how simple the characterization was. Both the characters and the tone of the story were just too plain, too obvious, too easy. After that initial stage, the characters just went through the motions, the plot became very predictable but, more than that, the way everything was told and the things shown just weren't intricate enough to keep up my attention. It felt as if everything was too easily put into a slot, into a role, and things played out too conveniently for it to be absorbing.

Katy is a good enough heroine but she falls into clichés, she is put into the book following what one would expect from a young woman in the 60s but other authors have written historical stories or books set in the not that distant decades of the last century and made them into fascinating characters. I think Katy started to loose interest for me at the same time the plot became more and more predictable.

Another reader whose review I read has said the writing feels immature and the characters one dimensional. I think in parts I would agree because everyone is what we see and their layers or their personalities just go with the flow...then, at some point, the author brings new information to light and instead of making it sound like the surprise or the shock factor one might expect (I suppose would be the intent), the reality is that for me it felt like coming from nowhere. The writing just wasn't that well thought overall, to make the story a compelling one. I'm certain this style suits the author's fans or whomever like it anyway, but to me, things just sounded juvenile and the tone of the "voice" the author used very, very plain and simple.

I think it's a pity the execution wasn't better. I think the idea behind this book (someone helping women who have been abused and need help) was a good one and the 60s setting could have been quite atmospheric and moody. It can be difficult to really think or appreciate the challenges the characters have to experience when the tone isn't the most suitable.

All in all, I don't even feel like talking more about this book, it was a miss for me when it comes to execution and possibilities. It seems the author has other novels which are better liked and better done too but I'll be honest and say unless another book by her falls on my lap, I won't purposely look for one.

Grade: 4/10

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