My Best Friend

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Overview

"England, 1944: She was the most beloved children's author of her generation. In a time of unparalleled fear, youngsters everywhere sought sanctuary in M. M. Haldane's magical world, where no danger was ever great enough to prevent her hero from returning safely home to tea. But when her own son, Gerald, went down to the woods one day, not even a mother could save him from making a discovery so horrifying that it would mark the end of both his sister's life and his innocence forever. When the doors to the nursery close, they close for
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Overview

"England, 1944: She was the most beloved children's author of her generation. In a time of unparalleled fear, youngsters everywhere sought sanctuary in M. M. Haldane's magical world, where no danger was ever great enough to prevent her hero from returning safely home to tea. But when her own son, Gerald, went down to the woods one day, not even a mother could save him from making a discovery so horrifying that it would mark the end of both his sister's life and his innocence forever. When the doors to the nursery close, they close for eternity...." England, 1995: As the country prepares to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of VE day, Gerald remains terrorized by his memories. Desperately lonely, he finds solace in following a young girl home from school. To protect her, he says. But when the girl disappears, all eyes turn accusingly to him. Running for his life, Gerald's only salvation is to finally confront the atrocious events of his terrible past - and the unthinkable, unspeakable truth about his star-crossed family, steeped in fiction and in guilt, that can finally set him free.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Delicate, merciless psychological probing drives this U.S. hardcover debut by suspense novelist Wilson (A Little Death, etc.), a study of the precarious line that separates the oddball from the murderous villain. As a boy in the Suffolk countryside in 1944 and as a grown man-child in contemporary London, Gerald Haxton is a gentle, troubled soul. He begins his narrative wistfully ("It wasn't the first time I'd come across a hand"). He then recounts how his twin brother died at birth, his sister was brutally murdered while still a teenager, his father cannot protect him and his mother cannot abide him. Mumsy is the famous M.M. Haldane, author of the Tom Tyler, Boy Detective series, and excerpts from the detective stories provide an excruciating contrast to Gerald's own bleak childhood. As an adult, he lives vicariously through theatrical experiences, seeing Cats 105 times. Despite run-ins with the police, he begins following a young London girl who reminds him of his sister, Vera. Interspersed with Gerald's story is that of his Aunt Tilly, his mother's sister and his father's lover, anxious to set things right before she dies. Each of Wilson's characters represents a unique imbalance between human weakness and longing for something better. The emotional weight that tips the balance to create kindness or crime, a savior or a monster, grounds Wilson's story as well as her style. She is at her best in detailing loneliness. If she rushes a bit to tie up loose ends or uses secondary characters who lean to stereotype, it does not undermine the stark effect of her psychological portrait of a family of oddballs and monsters more horrible and more real than anything portrayed in the Haldane books, which dramatize childhood travails. (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Psychological suspense writer Wilson's hardcover debut introduces decidedly oddball English loner Gerald Haxton. Gerald has seen Cats 105 times, Starlight Express 215 times, and the revival of Oklahoma! (since you asked) 39 times. In between curtain-risings, he's also become so obsessed with his warehouse coworker's daughter Mel that he follows the pretty teenager everywhere, carefully stepping into doorways and behind cars to avoid being seen himself. When Mel goes missing, Gerald's previous arrest and release for child molestation surfaces along with some other troubling details about his past, including his finding the body of his adopted sister Vera back in '44, his traumatic birth and that of his stillborn twin, his interior chats with Jack, that same and now idealized twin, and his imperfect relationship with his mother, the famous children's book author M.M. Haldane, whose series character Tom Tyler is everything Gerald is not: smart, handsome, beloved. Running from his accusers, Gerald seeks out his Aunt Tilly, who, unbeknownst to him, is taking time out from dying to explain to her new friend, a gay vaudevillian called Tiny, the facts about a long-ago love triangle, an unresolved murder, and simple Gerald's need for friendly supervision. The search for Mel and Gerald ends in a caravan on the coast on the eve of the 50th anniversary of V-E Day, the date when Gerald's initial ordeal began. Gripping, with an icy dovetailing of past and present-though the children's-book excerpts could have been given a miss.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780753117118
  • Publisher: ISIS Large Print Books
  • Publication date: 1/9/2004
  • Series: Isis (CDs) Series
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 9 CDs, 9 hrs. 35 mins.
  • Product dimensions: 7.36 (w) x 7.78 (h) x 1.67 (d)

Meet the Author

LAURA WILSON lives with her partner and a basset hound in North Essex and London. A former editor and author of children's books, her first novel, A Little Death, was short-listed for the Crime Writers' Association Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award and was also recently nominated for an Anthony Award. She is currently at work on her fourth suspense novel, which Delacorte will publish in 2003.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt


Gerald

It wasn’t the first time I’d come across a hand. I remember thinking at the time what a coincidence it was. Two hands. Mind you, it was wartime, so I should think that must have shortened the odds a bit. I’d been with Eric on the first occasion one of the few times I can recall when he’d let me play with him. We were in the woods when we heard the plane explode. Flames everywhere whoever was on board didn’t stand a chance. We went to have a look, and I remember running neither of us had seen a plane go down at close quarters before, and I was excited; we both were. We were hoping it was German, because German souvenirs were better for swaps than British ones, and in 1943 there wasn’t much American stuff around, at least not where I lived. They were still building the new airfields. Lorries full of sand and stone rattled through our village all day, every day.

I must have been about three hundred yards away from the blaze when I saw the glove. Worn brown leather, lying on the grass, palm upward. The fingers were curled over like a violinist’s and the moment I touched them I felt the solidness inside. The glove was still . . . well, occupied. I dropped it, wiped my hand on my shorts, and carried on running toward the plane. I can’t say I thought anything more about it until I found the second one, a year later.

It was autumn and I was in the woods again, but by myself. I think I must have been playing soldiers, because I remember lying on my stomach behind a thick tree root, pretending I was shooting from behind a parapet. I wriggled forward a couple of feet to look over the top, and there it was, a couple offeet from my face. No glove, just pinkish-gray flesh, sticking out of a pile of leaves. Wrist bent, palm downward, and fingers spread out as if it were about to crawl toward me.

I didn’t try to pick it up, but pulled myself a bit nearer and stuck out my own hand in imitation of its shape. I mustn’t have been quite able to make the mental switch from my game of soldiers, because I remember thinking that the two sets of fingers, opposite each other in a sort of confrontation, were like armies on a battlefield. Then I noticed how delicate the hand was. Pretty, almost, even with the dirt on the skin and the soil that was wedged underneath the long fingernails. I inched my own hand a little closer, and I think I would have touched it, but I suddenly saw that not all of the nails were the same length. The one on the little finger was bitten off short. The instant I saw that, a picture came into my mind of my sister Vera at Christmas, the cheerful, bright sitting room and her with a sketch pad in front of the fire, drawing, and Dad leaning over her, picking up the hand with the pencil in it. “If you go on chewing your nails, you’ll grow up to look like George Formby.”

She giggled. “Then I’ll only bite the little ones, so I’ll only look a tiny bit like him.”

They told me afterward that I ran into the house covered in mud and earth, shouting Vera’s name.

Haldane M(arjorie) M(aud) (1904”“1967), creator of Tom Tyler, Boy Detective, was born in Suffolk, where she spent most of her life. Daughter of a bookseller, she wrote of her early childhood that she and her younger sister, Matilda, had “an enchanted existence, living a perpetual delight from day to day.” Their happiness was shattered in 1916, when their father returned, shell-shocked, from serving in the First World War. His subsequent mental breakdown, which Haldane was later to describe as “an evil shadow,” took its toll on both her parents’ marriage and the family finances. Both girls became actresses, although Haldane only worked briefly in the professional theater before marrying stockbroker Arthur Haxton in 1922.

When Haldane became depressed by the couple’s failure to conceive a child, Haxton suggested writing as a distraction, and in 1924 her first book, a retelling of Shakespeare for children, was published. Folk tales and fairy stories followed, and her first original work of fiction, Kitty’s Unicorn, was published in 1929. This was followed by Kitty’s Birthday Wish and Kitty’s Christmas Wish (both 1930). The “Kitty” books were followed by a series of “Amy”? books, beginning with Amy’s Secret (1931), but it was not until the publication of Big Bad Bessie in 1934, with its eponymous heroine, the naughty schoolgirl Bessie Brown, that Haldane became one of the best-selling children’s authors of her day.

By 1937 there were eight “Bessie” books, and Haldane created the boy who was to become her best-known character, the “boy detective” Tom Tyler. For the next thirteen years she produced, on average, three “Tom Tyler” books a year, culminating in Tom in Trouble Again in 1950. Tom’s adventures with his cousins Peter and Jill and their dog, Scruff, invariably include unmasking spies, bringing thieves to justice, and finding lost treasure. They have been adapted for the stage, televised, and serialized as a comic strip that ran for over thirty years in Buster magazine.

Haldane and her husband adopted a daughter, Vera, in 1928, and in 1930 a son, Gerald, was born. However, the couple’s relationship, difficult from the beginning, did not survive the tragic death of Vera in 1944. After the war, Haldane wrote little except to continue the “Tom Tyler” series.

Although her work has generally received a favorable critical reception, Haldane’s last book, Friends in Spirit (1959), thought to have been influenced by her interest in Spiritualism, was universally reviled as morbid and sentimental. It was, as one critic put it, “such a far cry from the robust common sense displayed by Tom Tyler and his fellow thief-takers that it is hard to understand how they could have been created by the person who wrote this book.” Haldane, whose health was deteriorating, was said to be very upset by such attacks. She spent the last five years of her life in a nursing home and died in 1967.

Dictionary of Children’s Literature

“Get in there, you kids,” said the man with the eye patch, “and remember, if I hear a sound from either of you, there’ll be trouble!” The tall man slammed the door shut, and Jill and Peter heard the sound of a key turning in the lock. The room was pitch black.

“At least there doesn’t seem to be any furniture to bump into,” said Peter, “but I can’t find a light either.”

“There’s something nailed across the window,” said Jill. “Boards, I think.” She sat down on the floor and rubbed her ankle. “Oh, Peter, whatever shall we do?”? Peter wanted to comfort his sister, but he could not think of anything to say. With all his might, he wished that Tom were with them. If only Tom could find them, he’d get them out of this fix all right!

“I wonder where Tom is,” said Jill, as if she could read her brother’s thoughts.

“So do I,” said Peter. “And I’m starving. I wish we had some of that delicious picnic with us.”

“We ate it all up,” said Jill. “Every scrap. I’m rather hungry too. Supposing they leave us locked in here all night?”

“Don’t worry, Jill. I’m sure that Scruff will stay by our bikes until Tom comes back, and then they’re bound to come and sniff us out.”

“Poor old Scruff,” said Jill. “I hope those beastly men didn’t hullo, what’s that noise?”

Tap-tap-tap! Tap-tap-tap! “It’s coming from the window,” said Peter. There it was again! Tap-tap-tap-TAP! Then they heard a voice, whispering, “Peter! Jill! Are you in there?”

“It’s Tom!” shouted Peter. “Good old Tom! Good old Scruff! I knew they’d find us!”

“Keep your voice down or they’ll hear us!” said Jill. “Come on, let’s see if we can get the boards away from the window.” They pulled as hard as they could, and after a moment, a crack of light appeared, with Tom’s face behind it. “How on earth did you get up here, Tom?”

“Climbed up the back porch, of course. Scruff’s in the yard. What happened?”

“Those horrible men came back to the clearing while we were tidying up the picnic things,” said Jill. “We tried to hide, but they caught us and pushed us into their van. Scruff tried to follow, but they threw stones at him. He is all right, isn’t he?”

“He’s fine. He showed me the way here. It would take more than a few stones to put him off!”

“Jill’s sprained her ankle,” said Peter. “She’s being awfully brave about it, but I know it’s hurting her dreadfully.”

“There’s something much more important than my silly old ankle,” said Jill. “You’ll never guess what we saw in the van, Tom! Aunt Sarah’s picture!”

“And half a dozen others as well,” said Peter.

“So they’re the art thieves,” said Tom. “No wonder your mother thought they were suspicious characters. Well, we’ll soon put a stop to their tricks, shan’t we?”

Tom in Trouble, 1939


Copyright 2002 by Laura Wilson
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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    superb work of psychological suspense

    Gerald was one of those people who seem to always have a black cloud following him around. His mother, Marjorie Haldane a famous but high-strung writer of children¿s books, ignored her son almost from the day he was born because he wasn¿t the perfect baby she wanted. When he was about twelve he found the dead body of his pregnant sixteen year old sister Vera in the woods near his home. The police questioned Gerald before deciding the perpetrator was her boyfriend. Later on the police questioned Gerald again because he was always showing up to see the schoolgirls play soccer. They never had enough evidence to formally charge him but he was always fearful of law enforcement from that experience. <P>Now in his middle age Gerald lives a quiet life and the only real social contact he has is with his landlady. His co-worker Jo thinks he¿s an odd duck. When her boyfriend Ron tells her that twice before the police questioned Gerald in regards to young girls, she becomes concerned because her daughter Melanie tells her that a man answering to Gerald¿s description has been following her around. When Melanie disappears, Ron, Jo and the police immediately focus their attention on Gerald who¿s also vanished. This leads to the police alerting an angry public to be on the lookout for him, not realizing that someone working behind the scenes is stirring the angry the crowd into a riotous mob. <P> This is a superb work of psychological suspense told from the view points of three people, Gerald, Jo and Gerald¿s Aunt Lillie. British author Laura Wilson imbues her novel with a Gothic feeling of foreboding so that the audience senses that something terrible is going to happen at any moment. MY BEST FRIEND is a book well worth reading. <P>Harriet Klausner

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