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Wednesday, 27 April 2016

‘Hester and Harriet’ by Hilary Spiers

Published by Allen & Unwin,
3 March 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-92526-681-8

Theft, people-trafficking, manufacturing illegal drugs, car chases: typical ingredients of a fast-paced thriller, wouldn’t you say? 

How about knitting, cooking, bridge and the cutest, best-behaved baby that ever drew breath? 

In Hester and Harriet, Hilary Spiers manages to include all of the above, with hardly a policeman in sight, give or take the odd village bobby and a raid on a cannabis farm that takes place off-stage. The eponymous characters are sisters, both widowed, formerly a senior local government officer and comprehensive school teacher, enjoying a peaceful retirement in a rural village; the most excitement in their lives is the occasional skirmish with another vehicle on account of Harriet’s terrible driving. 

Then one Christmas they find themselves rescuing Daria, a young eastern European woman, and her baby Milo, who they discover sleeping in a bus shelter. Shortly afterwards Ben, their teenage nephew, arrives on the doorstep in search of sanctuary from his over-protective parents – and Hester and Harriet’s quiet existence is set to become a lot more interesting. 

As Daria’s unfortunate story unfolds, village life goes on, though not quite as normal. There’s gossip over an afternoon of bridge regarding a dispute between a snooty neighbour and the local philanderer turned property developer. Finbar the highly educated tramp finds himself involved in a dispute with a shady character. The vicar’s wife starts behaving quite out of character. And Ben, a typical fifteen-year-old, acne-ridden, school-phobic and welded to his mobile phone, reveals hidden depths.  

Hester, Harriet, Daria and Ben are rounded, believable characters: ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Both the village background and the supporting characters are two-dimensional and just a little larger than life: do-gooders Isabelle and George, opinionated Peggy,  wide-boy Teddy, a tweedy solicitor, an avuncular desk sergeant, a distinctly seedy private detective. There’s even a martinet of a hospital sister for good measure – but it all works in the context of a gentle, humorous narrative in which two ladies of a certain age discover that there’s a big, bad world outside their cosy sitting room, and that they quite enjoy the stimulation it provides. And of course it all turns out fine in the end.  

The result is an easy read, comforting in the face of the real big, bad world, beautifully written and perfectly pitched. 
 Reviewer: Lynne Patrick 

Hilary Spiers is a novelist, award-winning short story writer and playwright. She enjoys writing about ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances. Hilary lives in the finest stone town in England, with her husband and their neurotic cat Lola. When she isn't writing (which she is most of the time), she is directing, performing or cooking up a storm. Pies are a speciality.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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