Inside the walls of the Dead Letters Depot, letter detectives work to solve mysteries. They study missing zip codes, illegible handwriting, rain-smudged ink, lost address labels, torn packages, forgotten street names—all the many twists of fate behind missed birthdays, broken hearts, unheard confessions, pointless accusations, unpaid bills, unanswered prayers. Their mission is to unite lost mail with its intended recipients.
But when letters arrive addressed simply to “My Great Love,” longtime letter detective William Woolf faces his greatest mystery to date. Written by a woman to the soul mate she hasn’t met yet, the missives capture William’s heart in ways he didn’t know possible. Soon, he finds himself torn between the realities of his own marriage and his world of letters, and his quest to follow the clues becomes a life-changing journey of love, hope and courage.
The Lost Letters of William Woolf is an enchanting novel about the resilience of the human heart and the complex ideas we hold about love—and a passionate ode to the art of letter writing.
|Publisher:||Graydon House Books|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)|
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Lost letters have only one hope for survival. If they are caught between two worlds, with an unclear destination and no address of sender, the lucky ones are redirected to the Dead Letters Depot in East London for a final chance of redemption. Inside the damp-rising walls of a converted tea factory, letter detectives spend their days solving mysteries. Missing postcodes, illegible handwriting, rain-smudged ink, lost address labels, torn packages, forgotten street names: they are all culprits in the occurrence of missed birthdays, unknown test results, bruised hearts, unaccepted invitations, silenced confessions, unpaid bills and unanswered prayers. Instead of longed-for missives, disappointment floods post boxes from Land's End to Dunnet Head. Hope fades a little more every day, when doorbells don't chime and doormats don't thud.
William Woolf had worked as a letter detective for eleven years. He was one of an army of thirty, having inherited his position from his beloved uncle, Archie. Almost every Friday throughout William's childhood, Archie, clad in a lime-green leather jacket, had driven his yellow Vespa over for tea, eager to share fish and chips doused in salt and vinegar and with a garlic dip, and tales of the treasures rescued that day. Listening to Archie opened William's mind to the myriad extraordinary stories that were unfolding every day in the lives of ordinary people. In a blue-lined copybook, he wrote his favourites and unwittingly began what would become a lifelong obsession with storytelling, domestic mysteries and the secrets strangers nurse. What surprised William most when he started working there himself was how little Archie had exaggerated. People send the strangest paraphernalia through the post: incomprehensible and indefensible, sentimental and valuable, erotic and bizarre, alive and expired. In fact, it was the dead animals that so frequently found their way to this inner sanctum of the postal system that had inspired the Dead Letters Depot's name. A photo taken in 1937, the year it had opened, showed the original postmaster, Mr Frank Oliphant, holding a pheasant and hare aloft, with three rabbits stretched on the table before him. By the time William joined in 1979, it was a much more irregular occurrence, of course, but the name still endured. He still felt Archie's presence amid the exposed red-brick walls of the depot, and some of the older detectives sometimes called William by his uncle's name. Their physical similarities were striking: muddy brown curls, chestnut beards flecked with a rusty redness, the almond-shaped hazel eyes that flickered between shades of emerald green and cocoa, the bump in the nose of all Woolf men.
In a vault of football-field proportions hidden below Shoreditch High Street, row upon row of the peculiar flotsam and jetsam of life awaited salvation: pre-war toy soldiers, vinyl records, military memorabilia, astrology charts, paintings, pounds and pennies, wigs, musical instruments, fireworks, soap, cough mixture, uniforms, fur coats, boxes of buttons, chocolates, photo albums, porcelain tea-cups and saucers, teddy bears, medical samples, seedlings, weapons, lingerie, fossils, dentures, feathers, gardening tools, books, books, books. Copious myths and legends passed from one colleague to another; stories of the once lost but now found. Each detective cultivated their own private collection of the most remarkable discoveries they had made. For William, there was a suit of armour dismantled in a tarnished silver sea-chest, an ebony-and-glass case housing two red admiral butterflies, each wing secured by a tiny pearl pin, and a miniature grandfather clock only three feet tall. 'More of a grandson clock, really,' he always joked when telling the tale.
There were still some deeply unpleasant discoveries to be made. The detectives harboured daily fears of strange stenches, soggy parcels and departed creatures; mostly, white mice, cockroaches and bugs originally destined to feed pet lizards, snakes and rats. At least, William hoped that's what they had originally been intended for, before they met another, equally unpleasant end in 'The Furnace', the final destination for contaminated goods, the unrecyclable and unsalvageable. It sat shoulder to shoulder with the gnashing, monster shredder where lost letters became dead letters and all hope was vanquished.
Every day, the detectives opened letter after letter, parcel after parcel, searching for clues. The satisfaction of solving a mystery never faded. The joy of knowing that something so anticipated could find its way after a lengthy diversion remained exquisite. It was the thousands of unsolvable conundrums that wearied bones and wasted skin on paper cuts. Sometimes, there just wasn't enough evidence to trace, no clue to worry over until the blessed eureka moment. Over the years, William had learned not to fret over the truly lost, to let them go and to invest his time instead in those which presented greater hope of a solution. Every week, hundreds of new puzzles arrived, so the mountain of mail in the depot seemed self-replenishing. A pessimist could find much to confirm a bleak worldview in this museum of missed messages. Only a quarter of the post that passed through the depot ever found its way home, but just one very special victory could sustain a detective for weeks in their endeavours.
William had recently reunited a battered Milk Tray chocolate box brimful of wedding photos from 1944 with the bride, Delilah Broccoli. The son of her maid of honour had found them when executing his mother's estate and tried to post the box back to the last known address, but the street, never mind the individual house, no longer existed. When items discovered lost in the post held considerable monetary or sentimental value, or had been missing in action for an exceptionally long time, the letter detectives would courier them to their rightful home rather than send them off into the cavernous postal system once again. A still-breathing tortoise, a crystal chandelier and a silver pendant hanging from a garland of emeralds were among some of the undeliverables William had elevated to his personal care. In some very exceptional cases, the letter detectives went one step further and delivered items in person, out of fear that something so precious may become lost once again. On this most recent occasion, William had successfully traced Delilah to the nursing home in East Anglia where she now lived and decided this should be one of those exceptions.
When William entered Delilah's bedroom, she looked confused as she tried to place him. 'We haven't met before, Mrs Broccoli,' he reassured her. 'I work for the post office, and wanted to deliver a parcel to you that went astray.'
He moved a pink plastic cup of water from the table-top tray that lay on her lap and placed the world-weary chocolate box before her. It was the same shade of purple as her dressing gown; velvet with a white lace collar. Delilah's eyes flitted from William's to the box and back again. She tried to speak, but the words caught in a raspy net in her throat. Her silver curls were flattened on the right side of her head from where they were crushed against the pillow. He moved closer and laid his hand gently on her arm.
'It's all right, nothing to be frightened of. Here, let me help you.'
He prised the lid from the chocolate box and placed the crinkled photographs before her one by one. Delilah traced a finger beneath the row of sepia and a look of recognition spread across her face. She picked up one with a trembling hand and held it close to her nose. William watched as a shy smile illuminated her expression and her eyes grew misty.
'I'll leave you in peace now, Mrs Broccoli,' he said.
She reached out and grabbed his sleeve with her papery grip and held on tight for a second. Nothing more was said. It was days like those that kept his faith alive.
Lately, William had retreated more and more into the soft silence of the post delivery room, away from the chatter and bustle of the shared office space where the letter detectives worked. He had never been very good at rising above his moods and found it increasingly hard to shake off the melancholia he brought from home in order to join in the collegiate banter. In the solitude of the delivery room, he rummaged deep into postbags, a shirtsleeve rolled up to his pointy elbow, to extract what he hoped would be something special. Each time, he closed his eyes and forced his breath to grow slow and deep. His ribcage expanded like the bellows of old, his lungs paused at their fullest expansion, before he slowly exhaled, with a gentle whoosh. He hunched over the slate-grey canvas bag, with his left hand supporting the small of his back, and wriggled the fingers of his right hand inside. His thirty-seven years didn't command this posture; it was more an affectation that had evolved as part of his hunting regime. With great concentration, he would linger over the folds of the envelopes, squeeze parcels tentatively between forefinger and thumb, until, instinctively, he would clasp one, tugging it gently free and drawing it to the surface. He imagined he was like the mechanical arm of a teddy-bear machine, retrieving a soft toy. These rescue missions were different from the piles of post left indiscriminately on his desk every morning at six by the night-owl team who accepted the midnight deliveries. The letters that he found this way he believed were destined for him. Over ten years of flirting with coincidence, defying the odds and witnessing serendipity had left him superstitious and more inclined to believe in a divine intervention he would have mocked in his days before the depot. He now was convinced that some letters found him because only he, with his particular personal collection of experiences and insights, could crack their code. Other letters depended upon different detectives, of that he was sure, but some were searching specifically for him.
Last Tuesday, Marjorie, the longest-standing member of his team, had crept up behind him as he indulged in this ritual. He turned and saw her standing there, in her coral-pink mohair polo-neck, gold chains dangling under the collar, her hand on her hip. The twinkle of a tease glinted in her eyes. The shock caused him to drop the letter he had retrieved and he felt a blush spread from under his collar and burn through his beard. With no explanation of his furtive activity to offer, he just nudged his black, square-rimmed spectacles further on to the bridge of his nose, mumbled a noise somewhere between a hello, a throat clear and a cough and brushed past. Her satisfied laugh followed him to the cloakroom, where he rested his forehead against the cool dampness of the mirror and willed his cherry cheeks to fade. His bowel twisted and churned. Why had her seeing his routine bothered him so much? How deeply embarrassed he felt that his secret-self behaviour had been witnessed; actions he performed for himself that had never been intended for an audience. His mortification slowly gave way to irritation. Why had she been creeping about, anyway? No decent person wears shoes that whisper.
William risked a long look in the mirror. His curls looked tangled and his beard needed trimming. Something about his eyes made him nervous. They seemed, well, less brown. Like faded chocolate. It was probably just the fluorescent light bulbs. Eyes don't fade, do they? Was he vanishing? A man diluted? He shrugged his navy-blue pullover into position and braved the sorting office. Stifled giggles followed him as he took his seat at the end of the old boardroom table. He liked to sit with his back to the wall with the window overlooking the street to the right, mysteries lined up in rows to his left. His seat was the furthest away from the furnace trolleys, too. He hated the cremations. Failure in every spoonful of ash.
The faint strains of an old jazz number floated up from the street. It swirled out from one of the heaving hot spots that left William so cold. He could almost place the song, but it danced just beyond his consciousness as he tried to ignore the taunt. Was it 'Old Devil Moon'? He drifted away from the cardboard box of blue fountain pens he had opened, soon to be returned to a warehouse in Leeds as per the enclosed invoice, and tuned into the melody. He closed his eyes and followed his wife, Clare, down the spiral staircase to the jazz club of their first date, the Blue Rooms, on Montgomery Row in Notting Hill. He remembered how his hand had been slippery on the rail, his corduroy blazer too restrictive, his throat dry and knees shaky as he watched her stamp down the stone steps in her white fur boots. Her blonde hair was tied up messily in a yellow silk scarf that looked to be tickling the back of her neck. His fingers itched to do the same. He ached to pull that silky knot loose and watch her hair tumble about her shoulders.
All during the evening, he couldn't quite believe that he was there with Clare in a romantic capacity. Was she just filling in time with him while awaiting a more deserving suitor to woo her? Could she possibly also harbour hopes of something more than friendship?
They had met in very platonic circumstances, when William attempted to organize a book club on their university campus to tackle some of the great literary tomes. Week one: War and Peace. No one came. Week two: The Divine Comedy. Once again, he was a lonely soul in the Daffodil Room of the library which he had so enthusiastically reserved; he had even asked the librarian to bring in some extra chairs. Ulysses was to be his third and final attempt, and he waited with dwindling hope for some like-minded folk to help him fill that echoing room. When the door creaked open, he was flustered by the vision that floated towards him. Clare, bundled up in a crimson duffel coat and white denim dungarees, looked more modern-day fairy tale than first-year student. Blonde tendrils escaped from an untidy bun held in place on top of her head with green chopsticks. Her left shoulder sagged under the strain of a canary-yellow canvas bag crammed full of books. When she dropped it on the mahogany desk, the contents spilled across the polished surface: The Female Eunuch,Mother Courage and Her Children, Persuasion, sunflower seeds, colouring pencils, a battered and bruised burgundy leather address book and a sepia postcard of James Joyce completely covered in tiny cursive handwriting. For ever after, William would always feel a certain gratitude to Joyce, not just for writing the books he loved so much but for bringing this woman into his life. Her words tumbled out in accompaniment to her belongings as she scanned the empty room.
'Are you William? Am I in the right place? Where is everyone else?'
'Eh, yes, I am, and I've been asking myself that for a few weeks now, but it's just me, I'm afraid. And you - you are?'
'Clare. Clare Carpenter.' She pulled a ratty, striped mitten off her hand and reached out to shake his. 'Do two people make a group?'
'A very exclusive one, perhaps. Or, at the very least, a conversation. That is, if you'd still like to stay?'
Clare slid into the seat opposite him, the legs of her chair screeching violently on the marble floor. His nose twitched at a faint smell of cinnamon.
'Why not?' she answered. 'At least we won't have to compete to get a word in.'
William steeled his nerve to hold her gaze.
'Gosh, your eyes are two different colours. Like David Bowie. How bizarre!' He hesitated for a moment. 'How lovely.'
Clare looked away as she gathered together the contents of her bag. 'It's not as uncommon as you might think. Let's begin, shall we?'
Discussion of Ulysses evolved to talk of books in general and favourites in particular. Over the following weeks, Clare introduced William to Iris Murdoch, Edna O'Brien and Jane Austen; he shared his passion for Albert Camus and Samuel Beckett. Dissecting the worldview of the characters allowed them to delve into subjects that otherwise would have been too emotive for a casual acquaintance.
'Would Virginia Woolf have surrendered her writing for a peaceful mind? I don't know if I would smooth out all my edges at the expense of what she found in those corners.'
'The reason women love Mr Darcy so much is that he changed for the love of a good woman. How many lives have been wasted in the hope of that very outcome to a futile situation?'
'What Jack Kerouac gives me is a licence to be discriminatory about how I spend my time, who I spend it with, not surrendering to small talk and sycophants who need us to reflect and reinforce each other so that we can all feel we're okay. It sounds harsh, but it's true: I'd rather be alone than pretend.'
Excerpted from "The Lost Letters of William Woolf"
Copyright © 2017 Helen Cullen.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Have you ever wondered what happens to the letters that get caught in the rain, or packages that lose their label? I sure have and that is one of the reasons I read and enjoyed this book by Helen Cullen. I love mysteries and I love solving puzzles and I loved this book. William Woolf and the other detectives working at the East London Dead Letters Depot have an exciting job. They spend their day trying to solve the mystery of missing names and missing zip codes, lost address labels, torn packages, rain soaked envelopes and illegible handwriting. By doing so, the package and or letter can reach the intended recipient. The book started out a little slow for me, but not for long, that is why I gave it a 4 and not a 5. I love Helen Cullen's voice throughout the book. She has a very special way of taking you into her world. Her attention to the tiny details throughout, I found very interesting and enjoyable. I was given a copy of The Lost Letters of William Woolf From Graydon House Books through NetGalley. The opinions in this review are my own.
Is this a real job, being a lost letter detective at London's Dead Letters Depot? It sounds so cool and quirky English that it should be real, even if it isn't. The idea that people's correspondence is so important that it must arrive is wonderful, and that's what I would have loved to know more about. William Woolf is one of thirty such detectives, sort of mooching through life, not expressive enough to communicate his way out of problems with his marriage. He finds letters addressed to "my first love" and begins to believe that these were actually written to him. He puts all his skills as a letter detective to work to find the writer of these letters. The deal is that the letter-detecting is much more interesting than William's quest. Finding the real destination for packages and letters with names of streets that no longer exist or with addresses so smeared that only a few letters or numbers. The postal detectives actually deliver these in person! As you might expect, there are a lot of characters in this office, which is fun. The story rushes to a conclusion with too many coincidences to satisfy the reader. But this is a gentle, charming novel that will delight anyone who is in the mood for just that. ~~Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader
I loved the premise of this book. The idea that there are people who are hired to get lost post back to the rightful owners and it would be wonderful if there really were a Dead Letters depot somewhere. Some of the personal stories behind the letters and packages were beautiful and emotional. With the world using email and text to communicate today, it was beautiful to read these letters, many from the past. When there was a connection made, it was sweet and emotional to hear the reactions of the intended recipient. My big complaint is that I would have liked more letters, more mysteries being solved. William is an interesting character. He is a bit of a loner and a dreamer. He is also a bit of a geek and quite happy with his job. He wants to write a book and that is a motivator for him. He loves the happy endings when he can return a letter to its proper recipient and learn a bit more. He is a bit closed off with his emotions in real life though and that causes problems in his personal life. His obsession with finding Winter when he has a wife who loves him was also a bit frustrating for me, especially since that might have exacerbated the situation at home. I enjoyed getting to know William, his wife and her sister Florence. The secondary characters added much to the story and I loved their stories. The inner turmoil that William struggled with slowed the story quite a bit. All in all, I enjoyed this story, but it moved slowly and meandered a bit more than I would have liked. I listened to the audio book narrated by Rupert Penry-Jones. His narration fit the story perfectly. It was a slow, quiet voice that fit my idea of William perfectly. Helen Cullen narrated the female voices and it is always nice to have the author perform a story as they know exactly where the expression should go and the intonation of the text. I received a copy of this audio book from Harlequin Audio upon request. The rating, ideas and opinions shared are my own.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advance copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. The Lost Letters Of William Woolf is the debut book of author Helen Cullen, available through booksellers on 6-4-19. Ms. Cullen has a terrific writing style and will, I'm sure, go far. William Woolf is a "Letter Detective" for the postal service in London. For 11 years he's worked to reunite damaged or misdirected letters with their rightful intended. He's intrigued by his work, it's not always mundane, there's joy in being successful. William is a writer turned postal worker and his wife Claire is a painter turned lawyer. That's two frustrated, unfulfilled lives. The meat of the book becomes their dying marriage, can it be saved? Do they want to save it? It's all gone wrong and both are feeling old and used up. I never became invested in either character. Lost Letters is essentially two books in one. There's the lost letters and the damaged marriage. The only thing I see that connected them is loss, of all kinds. Romance is only found in long ago letters. I preferred the lighthearted postal detective story. It's my kind of read. The blurb for this book was misleading. If you're looking for a serious story about a serious subject then this is definitely the one for you. Happy reading. #HelenCullen #Netgalley #Harlequin #GardenHouseBooks
William Woolf has a most intriguing job. He works in the lost letters department of the British post office. Using available resources, William tries to get letters that strayed to their rightful recipients. There are several moving stories in the novel in which William succeeds in this task. William is married to Clare. They were once very happy but now are struggling. Will they stay together? How deep are the ties that bind them? Can they accept each other? While they struggle, William becomes involved in his most engaging quest ever. He begins to find letters from the mysterious Winter, addressing her true love. William longs to know who Winter is and his search, along with her letters, form the backbone of the novel. There were many things that I very much liked in this novel. All of the characters came to life and were well portrayed with their idiosyncrasies, faults and foibles. I loved some of the descriptions of William's travels, especially Clovelly and Dublin. However, I confess to being a mite disappointed with what is the "big reveal." Nonetheless, this is an engaging novel and should be a successful debut for the author.
I thought this might be a romance book-not my preferred genre. But is this a romance? I guess it is. But it’s more a love story (to the written word) than a true romance...if that makes any sense. A lot of this story isn’t romantic and I think that’s what made it so special. The love between William and Clare was beautiful and pure for much of the story and if it started as romance it wouldn’t have worked. This is a couple I rooted for. My heart broke for them both and I wanted nothing more than for them to have each other. I really enjoyed the story itself. I laughed, I cried, and I came to know and thought of the characters as friends. I very much enjoyed Ms. Cullen's writing style. I thought the character development was so well done, and I loved watching them grow, especially William. I didn't like him at the beginning of the book, but by the end of the book he had come so far that I enjoyed his character. There is a hint of mystery in the book, which gives the story an interesting turn of events. I loved hearing about all the letters and other items from "The Dead Letter Depot". This is a completely unforgettable story, truly remarkable. This author’s writing style captivated me from the start. A unique and unconventional love story that you won’t be able to put down. This novel is skillfully conceived, written and edited. This book truly captivated my attention and took me on a whirlwind journey that will stay with me for a while. There are many life lessons here, gently placed rather than shoved down the reader's throat. The characters are genuinely realistic and sorrow, joy, heartbreak and triumph come together in a wonderful way. What a wonderful read, I couldn't put it down. The characters filled my own heart with a feeling of such longing to find their destiny. What wonderful and true life lessons, leaving one with the feeling of having lived in the life of another. It was a lovely book and I look forward to reading more from this author.
I was so looking forward to reading this book because in the past I have enjoyed epistolary novels. For some reason, this one just missed the mark with me. William, the main character, was a nice and interesting man. I was entranced by his job--a little peek into the lives of strangers through their lost letters. He is a dead letter detective in London and spends his days attempting to get the letters to whatever place they were destined to go. I expected the story to be about re-uniting a letter to the correct person and it was, but in a round-about way. It seems it ended up being more about William’s marital difficulties and his obsession with an anonymous letter writer. I just never got into the story and struggled to finish it. Having said that, I would give the author a second chance with any books she writes in the future. Many thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin/Graydon House Books for allowing me to read this in advance and give my honest review.
A Sweet Story of Unconveyed Letters ”More than kisses, letters mingle souls.” Letters with no address belonging to the sender and a missing or unclear destination are lucky if they end up in East London’s Dead Letters Depot, it is their last hope. Inside the walls are thirty letter detectives who try to put together whatever clues they can to see that this mail finds a way to its intended destination. William Woolf has worked there for eleven years, since 1979, inheriting his position from his uncle, a man who filled his head with the stories found in missives that may or may not have ever found their way to the hands meant to receive them. He filled his notebooks as a child with these stories, so in the course of time these stories became somewhat of an obsession for him. These letters, the mysteries inside these letters that lie inside these walls, they speak to his soul. ”It was the letters to God, to mythics and mystics, to the other, that haunted William and formed the basis of his work. He had started collecting his favorites in the filing cabinets that lined the echoing Supernatural Division. He painstakingly typed out those he wanted to include in the volume and took photographs of the original documents. In his mind’s eye, he saw the two laid side by side on glossy, ivory pages within hard covers, the book entitled ’A Volume of Lost Letters.’” When he finds a midnight blue envelope with handwriting of ”curls and spirals, dramatic capitals, carefully crafted lowercase letters, all in a dripping silver ink” and sees it is addressed only to “My Great Love,” he can’t resist slipping it inside his pocket, and although he’s never taken one home with him before, he feels he needs to read this without the eyes of others on him, somewhere private. ”Maybe this is the year you will find me. I hope so. I have been saving up so many stories to tell you, and I’m worried that if you stay away much longer they will all have slipped from my memory. I’ve forgotten so much already. Are you hiding somewhere? Are you lost? Do you not feel read? I wish you would hurry.” And so it begins. There are other letters, some of which make their way to the intended recipient, thanks to his fine detective work, and those are personal, as well. Stories to make your heart melt a little. Some are more poignant than others, but this is where this story really shines. William is married to Clare, who is at a stage in life where she is taking pole-dancing classes to ward off her pear-shaped posterior. Clare seems to resent William’s ability to be content in his going-nowhere job, she can barely recall their initial attraction, and now that all these years have passed, it seems as though they are living separate lives, together. I had wanted to love this, and I did love parts of this, but sometimes the story of William and Clare, his viewpoints and her viewpoints, took me away from, what were for me, the best parts of this story. Several times I debated if I wanted to continue reading this, especially when I was reading Clare’s thoughts. Clare is struggling with her marriage, her feelings about William’s lack of desire for more money, bigger houses, more of everything, really. Dissatisfied with life, her marriage, she can only see a future wit