A Commonplace Killing: A Novelby Siân Busby
On a damp July morning in 1946, two schoolboys find a woman’s body in a bomb site in north London. The woman is identified as Lillian Frobisher, a wife and mother who lived in a war-damaged terrace a few streets away. The police assume that Lil must have been the victim of a vicious sexual assault; but the autopsy finds no evidence of rape, and/b>… See more details below
On a damp July morning in 1946, two schoolboys find a woman’s body in a bomb site in north London. The woman is identified as Lillian Frobisher, a wife and mother who lived in a war-damaged terrace a few streets away. The police assume that Lil must have been the victim of a vicious sexual assault; but the autopsy finds no evidence of rape, and Divisional Detective Inspector Jim Cooper turns his attention to her private life. How did Lil come to be in the bomb site – a well-known lovers’ haunt? If she had consensual sex, why was she strangled? Why was her husband seemingly unaware that she had failed to come home on the night she was killed? In this gripping murder story, Siân Busby gradually peels away the veneer of stoicism and respectability to reveal the dark truths at the heart of postwar austerity Britain.
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A Commonplace Killing 1
That neglected triangle where the Camden, Holloway and Caledonian Roads intersect, long oppressed by soot and the continuous rumble of the railway, its bounds set by the gloomy bulk of the women’s prison and the desolation of the empty Livestock Market, had been done for long before the Hitler War blasted every last vestige of respectability to smithereens. From the tops of buses you could see how, in other parts of town, the bomb-sites had been transformed by clumps of fireweed, willow-herb and ragwort; but in Holloway only fireplaces and doorframes, like overturned tombstones, protruded from rubble patches scattered with the broken bones of chimney pots. Within a few minutes’ walk, you might find yourself passing Pentonville on hanging day, or the Crippen murder house; but for the most part Holloway languished in obscurity: a meagre landscape of peeling stucco and thwarted ambition unrolling in street after nondescript street of villas built in more aspirant times and gradually declined into bed-sitting rooms inhabited by prostitutes, Irish navvies, coloureds, army deserters. And then came the V-weapons, almost putting the whole lot out of its misery.
Most of that particular terrace was just about clinging on; which is to say that although a good portion of it was awaiting demolition, there was at that time only one house-sized space, marked off by a piece of rusting corrugated iron that guarded access to a bare stretch of emptiness, sparing passers-by one of those startling glimpses of the horizon, so unsettling to Londoners which, since the War, had become a common hazard of going out. We had come to refer to these vacant spaces as “bomb-sites”; this one, like all the others, was utterly devoid of life, history and anything else of value, with the exception of one unremarkable London plane. This tree was now all that stood between the street and the precipitous gully of the London and North Eastern Railway, since the Jerries, in aiming for the railway, had obliterated instead a cramped row of soot-blackened houses which had overlooked the track for the best part of a century. The bomb-site was now entirely at the mercy of regular wet suffusions of acridity; and every time a train shrieked along the tracks to and from King's Cross, the shattered houses on either side of it shuddered, silently relinquishing fragments of masonry.
A gang of kiddies spotted the leg sticking out from behind the plane tree. Through the smut-laden steamy shimmer, the heat of a midsummer morning, there was a woman’s leg, stockinged and dressed in a high-heeled shoe, extending from a just-glimpsed skirt hem. The kiddies assumed it belonged to a shop-window dummy, dumped along with the pram skeleton, the chipped and overturned lavatory, the rubber johnnies and the lipstick-stained cigarette ends. They were going to throw stones at it when they realised that the leg belonged to the body of a woman. You could see nearly all of her chest. Her wide-open eyes stared past the plane tree leaves to the sky beyond. Her tongue stuck out of the corner of her mouth, swollen like a lump of raw liver. The blue and red stripes around her neck told at a glance how life had been wrung out of her by a pair of human hands.
Nobody–not even the kiddies–was all that surprised to find her there. These things happened: more and more these days. Holloway was a dump, peace not yet a way of life, and the war had laid waste to everything, leaving common decencies bereft and clinging on for dear life, shrapnel-pocked, shuddering in the aftermath of the great prolonged shriek as they let go of the old certainties.
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The late Busby has created a very realistic portrait of immediate post-war England. Dreariness, fatigue, and disappointment are major problems for most of the main characters, including the resolute but jaded detective. The characters are memorable and the settings are brilliantly portrayed. How sad that Busby died much too young. This is a wonderful novel for mystery lovers interested in Britain in the 1940s.
The setting is North London in 1945 at the end of World War II when some of the men were returning from combat to find their marriages in shambles. The women have had to survive while they were gone and some aren't willing to go back to the way it used to be. Lillian Frobisher is disillusioned and desperately seeking some sort of spark in her life. She no longer loves her husband but they live in her ailing mother's house and she won't leave. With rations, she's forced to stand in bread lines for up to several hours which only adds to her dreams of finding something better. When her body is discovered by two young boys, it is believed she was a prostitute who crossed paths with a violent customer. But when the autopsy reveals that she was strangled but not raped, the mystery grabs you---and doesn't let you go until the last page. The many twists left me wanting more. Unfortunate, Ms. Busby died before this novel was finished, and using her notes, her husband finished it for her. But that means no more of her stories in the future--and that's my loss.
The events prior to the killing and the steps of the murder investigation are told simultaneously in author Siân Busby’s last novel, A COMMONPLACE KILLING. The late author beautifully weaves the past and the present in such a manner you don’t realize at first that the two events aren’t taking place at the same time. The story flows smoothly as it transitions keeping a steady pace. This psychological thriller is set in post-World War II London and follows the double life of a seemingly proper middle-class woman, Lillian Frobisher. When Lillian’s body is found in an abandoned churchyard, it’s assumed she was the random victim of rape. Evidence shows she was strangled, but not raped. It’s up to Divisional Detective Inspector Jim Cooper to find the person responsible for this ‘commonplace killing.’ Cooper begins to look into her private life and why her husband didn’t report her not returning home. What the DDI finds is a seedy double life the victim hid from her family and a postwar London that has none of the cheery optimism portrayed in newsreels. A COMMONPLACE KILLING is suspenseful, intriguing and spellbinding as readers are taken back in time to London and the harsh reality of life after the war. Rich in history, the author’s vivid descriptions and details places the reader in the middle of the bombed landscape, the meager lifestyles and the broken promises. The last 20 pages of the novel were transcribed from a handwritten manuscript following the author’s death. There is less intense descriptions and details in these pages, but at the same time carries the story just as well. In some ways, the stark contrast to the earlier rich embellishments makes the ending more dramatic. Busby’s characters are well-developed with sharp contrast. They are courageous, yet flawed; broken, yet not without dreams. The author gives you a good sense of the time, place and the people trying to survive. The gripping story will hold your attention as you try to uncover the truth. Busby has an alluring way of telling a story concerning a time I’ve always found difficult to read about. You might be tempted to read this story solely because the author died as she completed the work. However, I would recommend reading it solely because it is a psychological thriller that will captivate you with strong characters, rich descriptions and a well-balanced plot. FTC Full Disclosure - This book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.
I am still reading the book so can't review at this time