Wednesday 3 February 2021

The Long Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper @wekesperos #TheLongLongAfternoon @bonnierbooks_uk @ZaffreBooks #BookReview


It's the summer of 1959, and the well-trimmed lawns of Sunnylakes, California, wilt under the sun. At some point during the long, long afternoon, Joyce Haney, wife, mother, vanishes from her home, leaving behind two terrified children and a bloodstain on the kitchen floor.

While the Haney's neighbours get busy organising search parties, it is Ruby Wright, the family's 'help', who may hold the key to this unsettling mystery. Ruby knows more about the secrets behind Sunnylakes' starched curtains than anyone, and it isn't long before the detective in charge of the case wants her help. But what might it cost her to get involved? In these long hot summer afternoons, simmering with lies, mistrust and prejudice, it could only take one spark for this whole 'perfect' world to set alight . . .

A beguiling, deeply atmospheric debut novel from the cracked heart of the American Dream, The Long, Long Afternoon is at once a page-turning mystery and an intoxicating vision of the ways in which women everywhere are diminished, silenced and ultimately under-estimated.

The Long Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper is published on 4 February 2021 by Manilla Press / Zaffre Bonnier.  
My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

Set in the late 1950s in sunny California, this is a wonderfully written mix of good, old-fashioned crime noir, with a compelling and precise social commentary. Highlighting the issues of its day, filled with a variety of cleverly and carefully created characters, this novel delivered so much more than I anticipated.

Ruby Wright is the hired help. She silently cleans the already perfect homes of the women who reside in Sunnylakes. These woman are perfectly made up, with perfect clothes, adorable children and husbands who go out to work every day. These women are little more than wives and mothers, very few of them seem to have their own interests, beyond talking about each other and ensuring that they look pretty for their men. 

Ruby says little, but sees so much. She comes from a part of town that the Sunnylake wives wouldn't dream of entering. A place that has a reputation for violence and crime. A place where people live who have to work to exist, where fresh flowers don't exist and life is hard. 

Most of the Sunnylakes women either ignore Ruby, or treat her like dirt on their shoe. Joyce Haney however, is different. She laughs with Ruby, she talks to her, they have what could be described as a distant friendship. When Ruby arrives at Ruby's home one day, she knows immediately that something has happened. Joyce's two children are alone at the house, and there's a pool of blood on the kitchen floor. Of course, the police officers who arrive at the scene take one look at Ruby, at her colour, and arrest her on the spot. 

Detective Mick Blanke is a little like Joyce. He's not like the other police officers. He is new to town, and has something of a shady past, but he's a good man. He is appalled by the decision to arrest Ruby, and this unlikely pair form an unexpected friendship, putting Ruby at risk. People from Ruby's part of town do not speak with the police.

What follows is a tightly woven story of hidden secrets and lies. As Blanke and Ruby do their best to uncover the truth, the residents of Sunnylakes make things extremely difficult for them. However, Ruby's inner strength and determination to make something of her life pushes her way outside of her usual boundaries. 

The Long Long Afternoon is such an atmospheric read. The author's descriptions of the people, the places, the attitudes and even the weather add such a wonderful element to this novel. The reader is transported to the hot and humid summer days in California with so much authenticity. From the perfectly manicured front lawns of Sunnylakes to the poverty-stricken and claustrophobic apartments occupied by Ruby and her family, these are incredibly well portrayed.

With themes of racial injustice, and the oppression of women throughout, The Long Long Afternoon is a brilliantly observed story.  The tension and intrigue builds towards a finale that is both shocking and satisfying.  Highly recommended by me. 

Inga Vesper is a journalist and editor. 

She moved to the UK from Germany to work as a carer, before the urge to write and explore brought her to journalism. 
As a reporter, she covered the coroner's court and was able to observe how family, neighbours and police react to a suspicious death. 
Inga has worked and lived in Syria and Tanzania, but always returned to London, because there's no better place to find a good story than the top deck of a bus.

Twitter @wekesperos

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