War Damage, by Elizabeth Wilson

wardamagebigI had high hopes for War Damage, by Elizabeth Wilson.

The mystery novel is set in London amid a decade of austerity following World War II.

Nearly everything is short supply, from food, to gasoline, newsprint and materials for repairing the damage of war.  Threadbare people wear threadbare clothes.  A new dress or a new jacket is an extravagance one really can’t afford.

Against this backdrop, Regine Milner throws modest Sunday parties in her Hampstead home to escape, for a few hours, their drab, gray lives.

The guests are an eclectic mix, both too alike and too different to be truly friends. There’s Regine, a translator at a publishing house with a mysterious background dating to her prewar days in Shanghai, and her husband Neville, a sexual sadist.  Then there’s Freddie, a gay photographer she knows from Shanghai who’s fishing for financing for a ballet magazine he wants to start.  And Vivienne, a one time prima ballerina and her son, Charles. There’s Carnfoth, a former, and perhaps current, propagandist for Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists.  There’s a junior cabinet minister whose career already is at risk because of a government scandal but puts it at even greater risk by showing up at the party in the company of his (pregnant) mistress.

And there are others.

Fast forward: Freddie is found shot to death on nearby Hampstead Heath within hours of the end of one of Regine’s Sundays.

And as Inspector Plumer and Detective Murray investigate, we realize that Regine and every one of her guests is despicable in some way.  They are liars, cheaters, thieves, opportunists and stalkers, with perhaps a killer among them. If they don’t have a past to hide, then they have a present to hide. Not even Murray earns my sympathy, because he’s so infatuated with Regine his investigative judgment is clouded and he is cruel to his girlfriend simply because she’s not the exotic and mysterious Regine.

Wilson’s novel develops a good, page turning pace.  But by the time it out races itself to the conclusion, little has been clarified.

It frankly seems as if Wilson had a contract to write 100,000 words, got to 90,000 and suddenly realized she had to wrap it up quickly – too quickly.

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