Set during the Second World War, Lissa Evans’ fourth novel for adults is the charming story of two very different people who are brought together in unusual circumstances.
“Hobbies are for people who don’t read books”
In the prologue we meet Noel Bostock, a ten year old orphaned boy who lives with his godmother, Mattie. However, it soon becomes apparent that Noel’s life with eccentric, suffragette Mattie is drawing to an end. As Mattie’s illness takes hold and she becomes increasingly confused Noel’s life begins to fall apart. This teamed with the approaching war result in Noel being evacuated, moving to safety in St Albans.
“Isn’t it strange,” she said, “that there’s always enough money in the coffers for war?”
Away from home and away from Mattie Noel is an outsider. As evacuees begin to get taken in by the foster carers, Noel – a bookish boy with a limp and prominent ears – is left behind. This is until Vera ‘Vee’ Sedge sees him, and gets an idea. Vee, struggling with debts, sees potential in Noel, sees him as her way of making money during this difficult time. This is the start of their extraordinary relationship, and the start of the scheming.
‘There were bombs outside, but inside was worse’
With the blitz as the backdrop to the story, Vee and Noel hatch a ‘door-to-door’ collection scheme to extract money from unsuspecting residents. This is one of many cruel scams taking place at the time as numerous characters try to get by as war breaks out around them. This made for interesting reading as it wasn’t an aspect of war I had thought about previously. The danger of war was clear but even when moved to safety Noel was not necessarily safe.
‘Win’ was a nickname, short for ‘Winchester Repeater’; the man could send you crackers in fifteen minutes.’
Despite the serious issues in the story and its wartime setting I found Crooked Heart very entertaining to read. This for the most part is down to the fantastic array of characters in the novel. There are certainly plenty of crooked characters in this story. They go to extreme lengths as war takes hold and they are both flawed and believable. I also found them to be darkly comic and I found myself sniggering at their interactions, and the way they are described. I loved Evans’ use of accents and dialect to bring them to life and I could almost hear their voices as I was reading. I particularly enjoyed the part of Vee’s mother, Flora, throughout the novel. As her contribution to the war effort Flora writes letters to Churchill with her own advice which made me smile!
‘…we should celebrate each glad moment as it comes.’
I thoroughly enjoyed Crooked Heart. It was a brilliant story about how two people who, despite their differences, need each other. Thrown together by war and the need for love and support Vee and Noel become a team and this is great to see. This is a humorous, heart-warming story, and I will certainly look forward to reading more of Lissa Evans’ writing.
Crooked Heart is due to be released in paperback on December 31st 2015 by Transworld Books. Many thanks to Alison Barrow at Transworld for providing a proof copy for review.