During the oppressive heat wave of 1976 a young journalist, Ed Peters, finds an Edwardian photograph in a junk shop in the seaside town of Brightland. It shows an alluring, dark-haired girl, an actress whose name was Leda Grey.Enchanted by the image, Ed learns Leda Grey is still living - now a recluse in a decaying cliff-top house she once shared with a man named Charles Beauvois, a director of early silent film. As Beauvois's muse and lover, Leda often starred in scenes where stage magic and trick photography were used to astonishing effect.But, while playing a cursed Egyptian queen, the fantasies captured on celluloid were echoed in reality, leaving Leda abandoned and alone for more than half a century - until the secrets of her past result in a shocking climax, more haunting than any to be in found in the silent films of Charles Beauvois.
The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox is published by Orion in paperback on 3 November 2016 and is the author's fourth novel. Her previous books are The Somnabulist (May 2011), Elijah's Mermaid (May 2013) and The Goddess and the Thief (November 2014).
The story begins in Brightland, an English seaside town. It's the long hot summer of 1976 and journalist Ed Peters finds himself drawn to a dusty old junk shop when he spots in the window, some old postcards of Hollywood legends including Bette Davis who was his mother's favourite. Once inside, it is a picture of a young, unknown girl that really captivates him, along with Theo Williams the shop owner.
The girl in the picture is Leda Grey, an actress from the days of the silent film, and Theo's sister. When Ed learns that Leda is still alive, and living as a recluse in White Cliff House, he is determined to learn more, and to hear her story.
Ed visits White Cliff, with a message from Theo and it is there that the story really begins. Essie Fox's writing flows so beautifully, she skilfully traps the reader. making you feel as though you too are sitting in the old, crumbling mansion. Listening to Leda tell her story, learning about her relationship with Charles Beauvois, a talented yet troubled film producer and discovering just why she lives alone, with no friends and no family around her.
Essie Fox writes with passion and authority. Her interest and love of cinema is clear throughout the novel, she brings to life some of the film stories of yesteryear, giving the reader a tantalising glimpse into the intriguing world of cinema history.
Evocative and haunting, this story is beautifully told, it is multi-layered and hugely engaging. The characters are rich, mysterious and surprising and the setting is fabulous. The old house almost steals the show from Leda and Ed. The author has created a stifling atmosphere, and White Cliffs House is firmly at the centre of it.
The Last Days of Leda Grey is so inventive, so surprising and quite enchanting. One last word must go to the cover designer - it is absolutely beautiful and reflects the story inside so perfectly.
My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy of The Last Days of Leda Grey for review.
Essie Fox was born and grew up in Herefordshire. She now divides her time between Bow in East London, and Windsor. After studying English Literature at Sheffield University she first worked for The Telegraph Sunday Magazine, then for the book publishers George Allen & Unwin - until moving on to art and design; a career that lasted twenty years.
Essie became a published author in 2011. She has appeared at various festivals, contributed articles for the national press, and lectured at the V&A. She also created the popular blog The Virtual Victorian, and much of the research she does for that website goes on to feature in her books, which are dark Victorian novels, published by Orion Books.
The Somnambulist was featured on the Channel 4 TV Book Club, was shortlisted for the Best Debut Novel at the 2012 National Book Awards, and has been optioned for TV/film by Hat Trick Productions. Her second novel, Elijah's Mermaid has received many excellent reviews in national newspapers and magazines. Her third novel, The Goddess and the Thief was published in December 2013.
In November 2016 Orion will also be publishing The Last Days of Leda Grey, an eerily mysterious novel in which an old woman remembers the time when she once starred in a silent film.
For more information about Essie Fox and her writing, visit www.essiefox.com
For news about tours and events, visit www.essiefoxnews.blogspot.com
To read Essie's popular Victorian blog, visit www.virtualvictorian.blogspot.com
Follow Essie on Twitter @essiefox