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Thursday 11 August 2022

‘The Orphans of Mersea House’ by Marty Wingate

Published by Alcove Press,
11 August 2022.
ISBN: 978-1-63910-88-0 (HB)

Set in Southwold in Suffolk, England in 1957, the story opens as Olive is packing her few belongings into two cases following the death of her mother. With only three pounds, four shillings and sixpence in her post office account and no prospects to speak of, Olive must find work and somewhere to live. A visit from Miss Constance Binny pointing out that Olive has no previous work experience and therefore no references was followed by an offer that produced in Olive a cold, creeping dread.

Then out of the blue comes her childhood friend Margery Paxton whom she hasn’t seen for fifteen years, and yet here she is to claim her inheritance: Mersea House a large old house she plans to turn into a lodging house. And Margery wants her to run the establishment. While she takes over her late uncle Milkey’s shop Paxton’s Goods in the High Street, updating it with the latest in electric steam irons and French table linens.

The first lodger to arrive at the boarding-house is Hugh Hudson, manager of the town cinema, swiftly followed by Mrs Abigail Claypool, who turns out to be something of a recluse, even wanting to eat her meals in her room.  But the most unexpected and surprising arrival, is eleven-year-old Juniper Wyckes, the orphaned daughter of Mr and Mrs George Wyckes, who according to Mrs. Lucie Pagett, Children's Officer at the local authority, is Margery’s ward.  The further shock is that Juniper was severely stricken with polio as a child, resulting in the need to wear leg-irons.

The next surprise was actually mine in discovering that I was totally enthralled with a story that is not strictly crime fiction, but I couldn’t put it down.  I had to learn all about these people.  How they would interact, what were their secrets? Because clearly, they all had secrets. I wanted to know how their lives would work out.

Of course, it’s never plain sailing, obstacles appear, one in particular being Miss Binny who has to have her nose in everything. And the threat that Mrs Lucie Pagett is keen to make clear is that that Juniper will be taken away if her welfare is in jeopardy.

Will the inhabitants of Mersea House come to safe harbour? Read the book and find out. Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

Marty Wingate is a Seattle-based author and speaker about gardens and travel. She is the author of The Garden Plot, first in the Potting Shed mystery series. There are now eight books in the series. Marty’s garden articles appear in a variety of publications, including Fine Gardening, American Gardener, Country Gardens, and Gardening How-to. You can hear her on the podcast A Dry Rain, available free from iTunes. She leads garden tours to European and North American. The Bodies in the Library, published in October 2019 was the first in her new series. She has now written two further books in the series.

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