At the Stroke of Nine O’clock by Jane Davis

There are three protagonists in this book, three disparate women with different background and lifestyles. Each is facing a crisis in her life. All three are distinct characters with their own voices.

Caroline is a naïve seventeen-year-old, fresh off the bus from Sussex and alone in London. With the death of her father, her mother is counting on her to make a living and send money home. She manages to get a job as a hostess in a gentlemen’s club, which entails persuading the members to buy food and drinks – lots of drinks. Anything beyond that is entirely up to her, but the owner wants a cut.

Ursula is a popular movie star returned to London after a time in Hollywood. She has left her husband and is pregnant and about to marry the father, a Hollywood director, when she learns he has spent the night with his ex-wife who delights in telling her that she too is pregnant. Alone and pursued by a gossip-hungry press, Ursula struggles to form a relationship with her ten-year-old daughter who she left behind in order to pursue her career.

Patrice is a socialite, married to a duke who is both difficult and a drunk. It is a marriage of money and title. The duke is also a gambler and makes fraudulent use of Patrice’s signature, putting at risk her beloved ancestral home and her entire future. 

By accident the three come together at the club where Caroline works and form a compassionate friendship. As they struggle with their own crises, they become involved in the real life story of Ruth Ellis, who is sentenced to death for the slaying of a brutal boyfriend. There are contemporary issues here relating to the death penalty, women’s rights, spousal abuse, and a harassing press, and we can see that the answers to the problems these characters encountered are still eluding us today.  

The author is really good at creating and developing characters. With their individual personalities, even the lesser characters refuse to sit in the background. From Caroline in the smoky gentleman’s club, to the glamorous actress, to the wealthy duchess, and the people they interact with, we see life in the post-war years on many levels. I thoroughly enjoyed this well-told story of the struggles of women to survive, to surmount the obstacles placed in their path, of endurance, and of friendship between women who on the face of it have nothing in common, but who come together to help each other and to try to save another who none of them know.

Excellent read. Highly recommended.

I realise it is a cliché but I’m going to write it anyway. I think this book would make a good movie. A bonus is the 99c price of the Kindle version.

*****

All that Shines and Whispers by Jennifer Craven

This book could be the sequel to a beloved movie. It is 1940 and the Weiss family escapes Austria after their country is annexed by the Nazis. We meet them when they are settled in Switzerland: parents Gerald and Marlene and seven children. On the face of it, they are a happy family except for the eldest daughter Lara, who has left behind a boy she loves. He is associated with the Nazi party. She possesses a secret that if discovered could ruin the family’s future.

The foreshadowing is terrific and the plot is laid out like a rope, drawing us in a little at a time, never slacking.

Marlene Weiss is tender-hearted, understand, patient and always upbeat, and she needs these qualities. Having married a widower, she is an instant-mother of seven children. Husband Gerald is less patient, but when danger threatens his family he shows himself to be strong and resourceful.

This book is not so much a historical novel as a family drama. If it has a fault at all it is that the Weisses are a little too perfect.

An easy and enjoyable read.

****

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