It wasn't until I removed the hold slip at the library that I took a good look at the cover. Then there was a swift recollection of the author's name (when you work at a library you place holds on all sorts of things...really fast...between customers). Several years ago I thoroughly enjoyed Their Finest Hour and a Half so when I twigged that my new book was by the same author I couldn't wait to get stuck in.
The story begins in Hampstead during the early days of World War II. Noel Bostock is nearly ten years old and living with his godmother, Mattie, in a 'spacious brick box, with a fancy ironwork verandah and a garden full of azaleas'. Mattie is a fascinating character with a fiercely dedicated belief in independence and education, although she is highly suspicious of government, rules, and regulations. She was also an active participant in the fight for women's right to vote. Noel has seen her pins, bars, sashes, rossettes, and a medal that states she was force-fed while imprisoned. But these days Mattie struggles to recall names and places...
'Or 'that church', she'd say, standing at the top of Hampstead Heath, gazing down at the scribble of blue and grey that was London. 'The one with the dome - remind me of what it's called.'
'St Paul's Cathedral.'
'Of course it is. The architect has a bird's name. Owl...Ostrich...'
'Right again, young Noel, though I can't help thinking "Sir Christopher Ostrich" has a tremendous ring to it...'
You can already sense the perfect combination of delightful characters, setting, and humour. But it's not all tea and roses. The bombs begin to fall and Noel is evacuated...
'The day after that, all the children disappeared, as if London had shrugged and the small people had fallen off the edge.'
Vee Sedge is a down-at-heel woman living in grim circumstances with her adult son, Donald, above the offices of a scrap metal business in St Albans. They can't afford to miss an opportunity and this time it comes in the form of a little boy. Noel.
There is another wonderful character in Vee's mother. Flora considers Mr Churchill, as in 'the Prime Minister', to be a personal pen friend. She writes letters to inform the elected official of her thoughts about everything from ration rip-offs to people whom she suspects to be spies...
'I don't know if you know this, but when Alvar Liddell on the wireless says Nazi on the news broadcast he says it in a different way to the way you say Nazi, you say it Narzee and he says it Nartsi. People have noticed this, and when I met my cousin Harold at the Abbey Tea Rooms last week he told me that he's even heard jokes about it. I thought you out to know. Alvar sounds a foreign name to me.'
Lighthearted bits like that provide gaps of pleasure because, as I mentioned earlier, it's not all urns of tea and chatting over the wall. There are other characters looking to thwart the system and have no bones about using violent means to accomplish their will. Black-outs and bombings provide the opportunity for thievery and it's not always the perceived image of a criminal that is the mastermind.
Crooked Heart is a wonderful story about relationships between the young and old and that family is sometimes where you find it. It also portrays the fact that despite severe hardship you can still have principles; stand up for what is right. By the time I was on page sixteen I knew this was a book that must have a place on my bookshelf so I will be buying a copy to enjoy again and again. It's an absolute delight!
*Just read that Lionsgate has bought the rights to Their Finest Hour and a Half with Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy in starring roles!