After the Mourning - Book review

352 pages - Paperback
Published by Headline Publishing Group, 2006
ISBN-10: 0 7553 2138 3
ISBN-13: 978 0 7553 2138 4

After the Mourning is Barbara Nadel’s second novel set during the Blitz in 1940’s London and again features undertaker and rather unlikely amateur sleuth Francis Hancock, but an amateur sleuth he, nevertheless, is, and a rather good one in my view.

This time, Hancock gets a call to go out to Epping Forest to see to the body of a Gypsy girl, Lily Lee, who has been savagely murdered.

The story then jumps back to the uproar that Lily had caused when she was alive because many believed that she had had a vision of the Virgin Mary. In a time of war any glimmer of hope is a magnet and Lily is transformed into an overnight sensation, bringing hundreds of people from the city to the forest.

We will find out in due course, though, that it was something entirely different that she saw and that she conversed with.

All the extra people thwart the military police’s efforts to find, not only the run-of-the-mill deserters, but fugitives too. One in particular, who they believe is being hidden by the Gypsies, and who is a Sinto from Germany.

Hancock, meanwhile, becomes involved because of the respect and trust the Gypsies have for him. As the story progresses, however, it becomes clear that who’s who and what’s what is about as easy to work out as where the next flying bomb’s going to hit.

The author's main character, Francis Hancock, is a charming, flawed individual with a powerfully developed sense of right and wrong and abiding empathy.

This is crime solving before forensics was a science, and Nadel also admirably captures the time, both descriptively and in terms of mindset. The novel is not only a whodunit, but also an insight into the history of the Gypsies and the persecution they suffered under the Nazis, though I am not entirely convinced that this fact would actually have been too well known amongst the Rom in Britain at that time.

Then again it is being said that the English Rom that bought up all those houses in Abbey Wood just around the time before World War II did so because they were supposed to have gotten wind of what would happen to them were they found as travelling Gypsies should Hitler have managed to invade those sceptered Isles.

If you like thrillers and fancy something a little less contemporary then try “After the Mourning.” I can highly recommend it. Beware though that it is a page turner and you may not want to put that book down again till you have finished it.

Michael Smith (Veshengro), December 2007

N.B. This book was NOT supplied by the publishers – I had not even known of its existence - but by a visitor to the Park where I work, who is a former Borough Councillor.