24 November 2014

Review: THE ENGLISH LADY MURDERERS' SOCIETY, Jim Williams

  • first published 2011 by Quartet Books, London
  • ISBN 978-0-70437-251-1
  • 302 pages
  • Source: My local library
Synopsis (author website)

Janet Bretherton, a widow at 60, suspected of her husband's murder and involvement in the fraud which brought his company down, exiles herself to Puybrun, a small village in a picturesque corner of south-west France, where she nurses her grief and tries to rebuild her shattered world. She meets six other Englishwomen who live the expatriate life. Earthy has fled from a hippy camp in a damp corner of Wales. Carol claims to have slept with every man in the world called Dave. Belle has a husband, Charlie, who may or may not be real because no one has ever seen him. Joy is married to the appalling Arnold. And Veronica and Poppy try to discover the basis for the love they have for each other. The women form a group in which they take turns to teach each other the lessons life has taught them. At the same time, they grow more confident and gradually reveal the secrets of their pasts.

When Janet finds she has attracted the attention of Léon, thirty years younger than she is, yet seems to find her still sexually desirable as he invites her to go dancing with him, she asks herself: What are his real motives? And does she care? In the end, the process of discovery reveals a terrible secret which forces the women to decide how much they love each other: how far they can rely upon each other... even when the question is one of murder.

The English Lady Murderers' Society is a humorous and affectionate description of the solidarity of women in the face of the idiocy and unreliability of men. It celebrates the courage and beauty of older women. The author is familiar with the subject because he is married to one of them.

My Take

This is a cleverly plotted novel that brings together a group of expat English women who all have something to hide in one way or another, and who are mostly without husbands. Janet's husband has recently died, and she appears to be suspected of his murder. She left England without telling her daughter Helen where she was going and the phone calls they have are full of recriminations. It is Helen who tells Janet that the police want to talk to her, and who gives the police her phone number. Janet has a series of quite strange conversations with the detective in charge of the investigation into her husband's death.

Meanwhile the small group of expat Englishwomen in the small French village of Puybrun form a society and explore each other's company. They go bushwalking, learn painting, and play poker rather like many other retired women do.  Meanwhile the investigation into Janet's husband's death continues and Janet works out what really happened to him.

My Rating: 4.5

About the author
Jim Williams first hit the news when his early novels had the uncanny knack of coming true. The Hitler Diaries was published nine months before the celebrated forgery came out. Farewell to Russia dealt with a nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union months before the Chernobyl incident. Lara's Child, his sequel to Doctor Zhivago, provoked an international literary scandal and led to his being a guest speaker at the Cheltenham Festival. Scherzo, a witty and elegant mystery set in eighteenth century Venice, was nominated for the Booker Prize. All of his fiction has been published internationally. The English Lady Murderers' Society is his tenth novel.

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, this does sound like fun, Kerrie. Thanks for sharing.

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