Keith Miles is probably best recognised by readers under the pen name of Edward Marston. He writes several well-received historical mysteries spanning the 11th century through to the 19th century. His website is www.edwardmarston.com
The Darkening Hour, Penny Hancock’s second novel, explores the relationship between a spoiled middle-class woman and a desperate woman employed as her servant. The action takes place in a not quite genteel part of London, which actually becomes minor character in its own right.
Theodora, the broadcasting Voice of South East England, is in a situation familiar to a lot of women: she is torn between her job and the needs of her family (an idle druggie son and her father increasingly damaged by dementia). She sees herself as the family martyr, the only one of her siblings to offer to house her newly-widowed father. Unlike them she doesn’t want to strip his old home of its assets, but she does want certain items, small – but decidedly valuable. Because she’s trying to do too much, her house becomes unmanageable, and she’s glad to employ a Moroccan woman on a friend’s recommendation.
Mona, who tells everyone she’s a widow, is in fact on a mission to find her husband, who appears to have committed some political crime; she is also desperate to support her ailing mother and six-year-old daughter. Hers is a no-win situation: she enters the UK on a limited visa and can’t simply change employer. Both women see this as an unbreakable bond. It could be symbiotic. However, when Theodora fails at the first hurdle, shoving the woman on whom she becomes totally dependent, into a small and unsuitable bedroom, Mona sees this as licence to embark on a series of petty thefts. Naturally the tensions ratchet.
In terms of sympathy, the scales become heavily weighted in Mona’s favour. Thefts apart, it’s clear she’s a paragon: she manages both the idle son and the ageing father beautifully, cleans the house to perfection and cooks, of course, like an angel. She’s even quite saintly when her dream is smashed. Theodora becomes less and less stable, and very much less likeable, especially when her lover is involved.
Personally I found the denouement a little too melodramatic for what was otherwise a pacy and thoroughly engaging novel, but read it for yourself and make up your own mind. You’ll certainly enjoy it.