From the bestselling author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir comes a thrilling new WWII story about a village busybody—the mighty Mrs. Braithwaite—who resolves to find, and then rescue, her missing daughter
Mrs. Braithwaite, self-appointed queen of her English village, finds herself dethroned, despised, and dismissed following her husband’s selfish divorce petition. Never deterred, the threat of a family secret being revealed sets her hot-foot to London to find the only person she has left—her clever daughter Betty, who took work there at the first rumbles of war.
But when she arrives, Betty’s landlord, the timid Mr. Norris, informs her that Betty hasn’t been home in dayswith the chaos of the bombs, there’s no telling what might have befallen her. Aghast, Mrs. Braithwaite sets her bullish determination to the task of finding her only daughter.
Storming into the London Blitz, Mrs. Braithwaite drags the reluctant Mr. Norris along as an unwitting sidekick as they piece together Betty’s unexpectedly chaotic life. As she is thrown into the midst of danger and death, Mrs. Braithwaite is forced to rethink her old-fashioned notions of status, class, and reputation, and to reconsider the question that’s been puzzling her since her world overturned: How do you measure the success of your life?
Readers will be charmed by the unforgettable Mrs. Braithwaite and her plucky, ruthless optimism, and find in The Spies of Shilling Lane a novel with surprising twists and turns, quiet humor, and a poignant examination of mothers and daughters and the secrets we keep.
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
JENNIFER RYAN is the author of The Chilbury Ladies' Choir and lives in the Washington, DC, area with her husband and two children. Originally from Kent and then London, she was previously a nonfiction book editor.
Read an Excerpt
Ashcombe Village, England
How do you measure the success of your life? Mrs. Baithwaite wrote determinedly in her notebook as the trrain sputtered out of the little station. She hadn’t left her village for a year; hadn’t been to London since the war began back in 1939. The journey to see her daughter was long overdue.
Every so often the train would hurtle through a station, now nameless because all the station signs had been taken down at the beginning of the war to confuse any invading Nazis. None had come over yet, thank heavens. For now the Nazis were content sending planes across every night to bomb British cities to pieces—the Blitz, they called it, “lightning.” Their intention at first was to take out factories and docks, but now they were bombing at random, trying to exhaust the Royal Air Force and break the spirit of the people.
Mrs. Braithwaite muttered to herself. “Well, my spirit has well and truly been broken, but not by the Nazis.”
The previous morning, Mrs. Metcalf and the village matrons had demoted her from her rightful position as head of the local Women’s Voluntary Service.
“It was a joint decision,” Mrs. Metcalf had said two ladies on either side of her. She had placed herself at the center of a folding table in the village hall while Mrs. Braithwaite was required to stand before them. “You have been in the top WVS position since the war began, and now we feel that it’s time to pass the baton to a more,” she paused, thinking of the right word, “a more thoughtful and considerate leader.” Naturally, she meant herself.
Mrs. Braithwaite had a sturdy frame, which she felt gave her lack of height more gusto. Her short hair was still a rich brown despite her fifty years, her face large and uncompromisingly oblong, her mouth drawn effortlessly into a frown. She narrowed her eyes at her old neighbor and so-called friend. “I’ve put my all into this group and this is how I’m repaid?”
“The truth is, we’re fed up with you bossing everyone around,” Patience Metcalf stated with far less subtlety than her mother. A twenty-two-year-old who had married well and stayed in the village, Patience was the opposite of her own Betty, who had vanished off to London at the first whiff of war. Mrs. Metcalf’s children—both Patience and her son, Anthony—were practically perfect, according to their mother. Anthony was an exceptionally bright student at university, while Patience had already produced three children, much to Mrs. Metcalf’s pride and Mrs. Braithwaite’s infuriation; why did Betty have to be so bookish?
Patience glanced sideways toward the other ladies and added, “And with the end of your marriage, we wondered if there was a more reputable leader—”
“So that’s what this is about!” Mrs. Braithwaite roared. “Am I an embarrassment to you all because I’m divorced?”
A sharp intake of breath echoed around the hall. Divorce was rare in these parts. It was a word that quickly conjured up ideas of carelessness, loss of control, depravity.
Mrs. Metcalf raised a condescending eyebrow. “Now, let’s not get beyond ourselves. It’s not only to do with that. It’s also because of the events on Saturday evening.”
Mrs. Braithwaite felt blood rush to her face. The events alluded to had occurred around dinnertime, when Mrs. Metcalf, in the midst of entertaining Lady Worthing, the ceremonial head of the WVS, had spotted Mrs. Braithwaite’s podgy, pale face in her dining room terrace window. Excusing herself politely, Mrs. Metcalf opened the French doors and looked out into the cool night air. There hadn’t been any sign of Mrs. Braithwaite, only a stubby shadow behind a potted ornamental bush.
“I know you’re there,” Mrs. Metcalf called, and eventually Mrs. Braithwaite had no choice but to come out. It was a mistake to pretend she’d been looking for a lost brooch; they both knew that she was spying. She’d suspected Mrs. Metcalf’s butler of stealing the pig that was missing from a local farm, and she was now waiting in full expectation of seeing a large pork joint—a victorious apple in its mouth—as the centerpiece of Mrs. Metcalf’s table. The food rations had hit Mrs. Braithwaite especially hard, with her love for roast beef, pork, and puddings. When she’d heard about the missing pig, her love of mysteries had got the better of her: she’d become intent on uncovering its whereabouts.
“I was helping the police with an important investigation,” she explained to the committee, adopting the self-righteous air of one doing a service for the community.
“You were trespassing on private property.” Mrs. Metcalf sniffed victoriously.
“But the pig is not a WVS matter. You can hardly expect me to stand down under such circumstances.”
“You will have to let the committee decide that,” Mrs. Metcalf said. “Until then this meeting is adjourned.”
The ladies stood, discussing the matter between themselves, while Mrs. Metcalf came forward to have a quiet word with Mrs. Braithwaite.
“I would also like to remind you that I know about that little matter you’ve kept hidden all these years.” Mrs. Metcalf gave the smug smile of one who knows a secret and acknowledges its power. “I think your daughter, Betty, would be very keen to hear what you’ve been keeping from her.”
Mrs. Braithwaite expelled a great snort of breath. She loathed the fact that Mrs. Metcalf knew the one thing she dreaded leaking out. Goodness knows what effect it would have on her reputation, not to mention how it would affect Betty. Mrs. Braithwaite had tried over the years to forget about it, to sweep it under the rug. But Mrs. Metcalf always reminded her, like a ghoul from the past wagging a condemning finger, always ready to seal her doom.
She noticed Mrs. Metcalf’s son Anthony moving some chairs at the back of the hall, hiding a smirk. He was a slim, ferret-like young man who was a little older than Betty; they’d been great friends, getting the bus to the grammar school in town every day. Occasionally he would visit from university, and yesterday, annoyingly, had been one of those days.
Had Mrs. Metcalf already told him her secret? Would he tell Betty?
Furious, Mrs. Braithwaite snapped, “You can’t get away with this! You’ve been after the top position for months, and now you’re forcing me out—”
“Not forcing you out, exactly” Mrs. Metcalf interrupted. “You are still welcome to help out with the other village ladies.”
Mrs. Braithwaite contained a howling bellow, the sound sticking in her throat like an unerupted missile. The WVS was all she’d had since Dickie left. Without her ladies to lead, she would have no one. But it would be impossible for her to attend the group as a normal volunteer, not the group leader. She had noble blood in her veins, after all, even if she lived in a small house these days. She could never lower herself.
Regaining her composure, she brought herself up to attention. “If you don’t want me here, I’ll find other people who will appreciate my energies.”
With that she threw Mrs. Metcalf a final look of disdain and stormed out, her proud exit sabotaged by a pile of folding chairs nlying against the door, which clattered to the floor, pulling Mrs. Braithwaite down with them. After sprawling around like an upended beetle, she scrambled to her feet, straightened herself, and marched through the door with as much dignity as she could muster. Mrs. Braithwaite remained in her sitting room for the rest of the day. As the setting sun cast a golden glow onto her chintz sofa, she realized that drastic measures were needed. With her husband gone, her village peers tossing her aside, and Mrs. Metcalf threatening to expose her secret, there was nothing else for it. She had to go and see the person who still mattered in all of this.
She needed to see Betty.
She needed to tell her everything.
Otherwise, every time Mrs. Metcalf needed more power, she would remind Mrs. Braithwaite about what she knew; that she could drop it over the small community like her very own incendiary bomb. She couldn’t let Betty hear about it from Mrs. Metcalf or Anthony.
Betty, who was now almost twenty-one, had sent her five letters since she’d been in London, and as she sat in the train to London, Mrs. Braithwaite pulled them out of her sturdy brown handbag and flicked through them. The first was short, letting her mother know she was living in a boarding house in Bloomsbury. The next had a new address: Three Shilling Lane, Wandsworth, sharing a house with two girls. The other letters were also concise, telling her about lunchtime concerts with girlfriends, a play she’d seen at the theater—“a murder mystery, you’d have loved it, Mum!”—and a marvelous new film, Gone with the Wind. She seemed to be incredibly busy, enjoying her job, and keeping herself safe from the bombs.
Reading Group Guide
1. How is a woman’s life different today, compared to in the 1930s and ’40s, in terms of her personal relationships and marriage?
2. Why do you think the war contributed to looser sexual mores among women, especially among those like Betty, who moved to London to work?
3. Betty believes that Mrs. Braithwaite has become more thoughtful, and Mr. Norris more daring, as a result of spending time together. How do you think this happened? Do you think it is common for people to affect one another this way?
4. The book is a story about a mother and a daughter coming back together after years of misunderstanding. Do you think that the mother-daughter relationship is an inherently complicated one?
5. Do you think that Mrs. Braithwaite should have told Betty about her secret a long time ago?
6. Mr. Norris was very strict about his routine, yet by the end, he felt his insistence on structure had resulted in life passing him by. How important is routine to you?
7. Death and destruction were never far away during the war. How do you think this affected the people who were living through it? How does the omnipresence of death make people think differently about their lives?
8. Mrs. Braithwaite’s character evolves dramatically over the course of the novel. In your view, what was the most marked change? What was the most important? How about Mr. Norris? What was his most crucial change?
9. Mrs. Braithwaite is constantly revising the standards by which she judges the success of her life, cycling through status, family, kind deeds, joy, and love. Which of these measures do you think are the most important?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Mrs. Braithwaite is my new favorite fictional heroine. If you are a fan of the BBC World War ll series such as The Bletchley Circle and Home Fires, you will love this novel. Spies of Shilling Lane takes place in 1941 during the London Blitz. The story begins with Mrs. Braithwaite, a cantankerous village busybody being unceremoniously boosted from her position as chairwoman of the local WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service), due to the disgrace of her husband’s divorce petition and her bossy ways. Her one time close friend Mrs Metcalf threatens to reveal a poignant family secret that Mrs Braithwaite has been harboring lifelong, if she doesn't step down graciously. Mrs Braithwaite decides to visit her somewhat estranged daughter, Betty who has taken an office job in London and divulge the secret to her. However, when she arrives at Betty’s flat in London, she discovers that Betty has been missing for several days. That's when the adventure begins. Betty, it turns out is not the office girl she claims to be. Sensing that Betty is in danger, she sets out to find and rescue her, drafting Mr Norris, the kindly but meek landlord along the way as her reluctant accomplice. Mrs Braithwaithe is relentless and fearless in her quest to locate and rescue Betty. As the story progresses,Jennifer Ryan brings to life the heartbreaking nightly bombings of the London Blitz and the effects on the everyday lives of the populace. The evolution of Mrs. Braithwaite's priorities in life come full circle with her reevaluating her stance on what factors constitute success in life. Is it social standing or love, kindness and family? The novel has it all: suspense, adventure, romance, heartbreak, comedy and a great ending. “Who knows when one might be in peril and need Mrs. Braithwaite to save one's life?”
The Spies of Shilling Lane is an addictive read. You quickly begin to connect with Mrs. Braithwaite as she desperately searches for her missing daughter in London. The underdogs save the day in this charming read. There was one unexpected gruesome description following a bombing that took me aback. It was not gratuitous in any way, just shocking. There was also plenty of humor in the book with the untrained spies learning to find their inner strengths.
Predicable, overly sweet , very "girly".
review of life during the war while always in danger of being bombed
Quit after less than a hundred pages.
I won a copy of this book from Goodreads giveaways, was not required to give a favorable review. This was such a wonderful book. It starts off with a mother that hasn't had the best of relationships with her daughter but there are so many reasons behind it. Mrs. Braithwaite's daughter decided to go work in London during the war, and when the mother gets dethroned from the WVS and divorced and other things she ends up in London trying to see Betty. Only when she gets there Betty is missing and her landlord Mr. Nixon hasn't seen her. But between the two of them they have a lot to learn on the fly of being spies and helping Betty, MI5, a wonderful teacher who is also Miss Braithwaite, who was injured and lost her mother. But Cassandra one of the other ladies in the home renting a room. I loved how they got into some touchy situations. I enjoyed it very much, if you love a good historical this is a book to read.
If you enjoy Foyle’s War & Bletchley Circle, you’re likely to enjoy The Spies of Shilling Lane. This is the charming story of how Mrs. Braithwaite goes off to London in search of her daughter and ends up finding herself. Mrs. Braithwaite comes to terms with her past, learns compassion, and opens her closed off heart. The scenes where Mrs. B. reaches out to a young woman who is seriously wounded when she heroically saves a classroom of children were especially touching. ***Thanks to the publisher & NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this story! Quotes I liked: “But as Mrs. Braithwaite walked into St. Thomas’s Hospital, she became all too aware of her heart.” “‘Some people have so much love in their hearts. They’d do anything for anybody. They’re the real heroes of this war . . . like this courageous woman. No one told her what to do; she simply saw someone hurt, someone in trouble, and found the bravery to go into the chaos, help in the best way she could. It didn’t matter whether it put her own life in danger.’ . . . ‘And look how she’s repaid,’ Mrs. Braithwaite murmured, looking at the tumbledown brutalized body. The nurse smiled calmly. ‘But think of the children she saved. They owe her their lives! They’ll always remember her. It must be wonderful to know that you made so much difference to so many people’s lives. You enabled them to live! Can you imagine that?’” “An overwhelming feeling came over Mrs. Braithwaite, a crush of pain that life was so fleeting, that the dance was over almost as soon as it had begun. She thought about her own life, how she’d wasted so much of it marching, staying on the footpath, when she could have been dancing.” “How much kinder she could have been . . . If a woman knew the moment of her death, would she live her life differently? More wisely, undoubtedly. More frivolously, perhaps. But would she be more fullhearted, less selfish?” “Why do people get so caught up in their own senseless struggle for status that they forget to relish the beauty in others?” “Sometimes you have to feel grateful for what you have, see the good, and only the good. We only have one life. One chance for happiness. And sometimes we forget that we can actually choose whether we want joy or cynicism. Let’s pick joy.” “When people you care for die, something inside changes, and you become a different person. Some say that you take on a part of them yourself, that everything you loved about them is enveloped within you, that you have a responsibility to keep them alive in your heart, whatever it takes.”
The Spies of Shilling Lane is a treat for anyone who loves historical fiction. Mrs. Braithwaite, divorced by her husband and drummed out of her village, determines to find her daughter Betty in an adventure through London during the Blitz. The characters of Mrs. Braithwaite and Mr. Norris were so well drawn that I could visualize them as I read. Loved Mrs. Braithwaite! In the beginning she is bossy, rude, antagonistic and a thoroughly unlikable character. Her standing and reputation in the community are the only things of importance. Seeing emotion and sentiment as weaknesses, she has distanced herself from those around her, but most especially from her daughter Betty. But in her search for her daughter she encounters various individuals and situations, each teaching her lessons in caring, love, courage, and humility. She remains stout and bossy to the end, but really quite loveable. Mr. Norris is at the outset, withdrawn, timid, and easily intimidated. An inconsequential man whose life is lived by routine and not rocking the boat. He is bullied by Mrs. Braithwaite into helping her in her search, and when faced with chaos and danger transforms from insignificant to amusing, endearing, and daring. This was a charming story and well told. There is humor throughout and a bit of sentiment, despite Aunt Augusta’s influences! The only flaw for me was the drawn out ending. I felt there was just a bit too much thrown in at the end, but, if a sequel is to follow I would definitely be up for more adventures with Mrs. Braithwaite and Mr. Norris. Thank you to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for the advance reader copy made available for my review.
The best way to describe this book is the word “caper” a grand caper. We have the main characters, Mrs. Braithwaite and Mr. Norris acting as amateur sleuth detectives in trying to find Mrs. Braithwaite’s daughter Betty. The daughter lives in London and evidently, she is not actually working in the profession or career her mother has been told and she has come up missing. This is a light hearted escapade of the two lead characters traipsing off to find the bad guys and foil the villains. Unfortunately, I got lost between several things, the historical fiction for one. This book is not really about anything historical nor does it recite any actual events of the war other than the blackouts, the bombings and the bomb shelters. I also felt there were quite a few coincidences that probably did not happen due to Mrs. Braithwaite or Mr. Norris’s investigative skills. But on the upside, the book has pleasant interactions between Mrs. Braithwaite and Mr. Norris, this relationship was very enjoyable to follow. As far as Betty goes, I never cared for her attitude and her priorities were not in the right place. I do think Betty and her mother did come to understand and appreciate each other a little bit better. So, for this one, it’s a 50/50 chance. If I could, it would be 3.5 stars but I’ll round it up to 4 since I did enjoy picturing Mrs. Braithwaite in some of her unfortunate situations. I can see she would have struggled with them. This one gets 4****’s. I was given an advanced copy from Crown Publishing and Net Galley for my honest review.
I read and enjoyed The Chilbury Ladies' Choir so was thrilled to be offered this e-galley from NetGalley and the publisher. This novel takes place during WWII. I duly note how many recent historical novels have taken place during this era. Nonetheless, I found this to be one that was a good read. The novel's protagonist, Mrs. Braithwaite, (a woman of a certain age), has tried to live her life very much in accord with convention and awareness of social status. She is dethroned from her position as head of the WI early in the book. Over the subsequent course of the novel Mrs. B changes from an unlikable character to a woman with more nuance. Mrs. B's emotional and real journeys put her in contact with the unassuming Mr. Norris. Together they move away from their comfort zones, begin thinking more of others and have adventures. Yes, belief must be suspended but one roots for them nonetheless. There are several story lines that show Mrs. B's emotional growth. One has to do with a young teacher injured in a bombing raid while another takes place during the blackout in a supposedly safe haven that becomes flooded. The reader also comes to understand Mrs. B's biography and how it led her to be the person that she was. There are spies and plots along with counter plots and a depiction of war-torn London. There are the beginnings of a gentle love between the protagonists and other hearts that have been broken. Mrs. Braithwaite reminds me a bit of Mrs. Bird, the eponymous character in one of 2018's debut novels. However, unlike Mrs. Bird, Mrs. Braithwaite has the capacity to change. I enjoyed this novel. Again, thanks to NetGalley and publisher.
The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan is a Historical Mystery that takes place during World War II. Ryan’s new book has plenty of action with thrills, suspense, romance and the characters are fun and quirky. My favorite part was the transformation of the characters as they went through many adventures and misadventures. Mrs. Braithwaite was seen as a difficult person but she had such strength and truly cared for others. I loved the choices she made to change her life. I received a complimentary copy of this book from First to Read. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. I appreciate the opportunity and thank the author and publisher for allowing me to read, enjoy and review this book.