A few years ago, my mother pressed Their Finest Hour and a Half into my hands, and told me I had to read it. Let it never be said I’m not an obedient daughter, so I did, and duly enjoyed it – a touching yet entertaining book about the making of a propaganda film during the Second World War. Despite this, though I read quite a few positive reviews of Crooked Heart when it came out, it took me an embarrassingly long time to put two and two together until I picked up a copy in the library (always support your local library!) and realised that she was behind this one too. With the paperback due to be published by Doubleday on 31st December, now seems a good time to post this review.
Noel Bostock is a precocious and cool-headed ten year old who after the death of his beloved godmother Mattie is evacuated from London to St Alans away from the war. A suffragette and a free spirit, she had always taught him to reject authority, and as a result, he has a deep suspicion of the government’s motives behind the war. Vee is the unscrupulous and nervy woman who offers to take him on, after noting a slight limp which she hopes to profit from. Noel quickly realises that Vee is exploiting the war for her own ends – and that she isn’t particularly good at it. With him however, her schemes may just work. A rather touching and mismatched friendship develops – whilst it does feel rather odd rooting for two crooks conning people by ‘collecting for orphans.’ But they’re not the only ones making use of the war for nefarious purposes – from the man with the heart condition helping other evade the draft, and the businessman filtering dyed petrol. And some are more dangerous than others. Unsuspectingly, Noel stumbles into a situation far scarier than he could have imagined, and Vee, realising how much the boy means to her after all, takes off after him.
I love a war novel and Crooked Heart doesn’t disappoint – it’s is a fascinating and heartwarming dark comedy, showing a side of London’s ‘wartime spirit’ not often written about. Noel is the ten year old who makes for delightful reading but who you’d rather steer clear of in reality – and who I think I might have taught in my dark days as an au pair. Vee is brilliantly portrayed as buzzing with nervous energy, who can talk her way out of a perfectly credible lie within seconds, to Noel’s exasperation. There’s plenty of fun in their double act, though plenty of darkness to be found too – it is a war novel after all. The death of Mattie and Noel’s continued devotion to her makes for heartrending reading, and we encounter plenty more grief, death and deceit before too long.
Mark your diaries for the publication of the rather fetching new purple paperback!