The Other Mrs Walker is the debut novel by Mary Paulson-Ellis, and a mystery spanning decades and generations.
It was book club’s June read and I got to meet the author at a fantastic event held by our friends at Forum Books.
What’s it about?
Here’s the blurb from the publisher:
An old lady dies alone and unheeded in a cold Edinburgh flat on a snowy Christmas night. A faded emerald dress hangs in her wardrobe; a spilt glass of whisky pools on the floor.
A few days later a middle-aged woman arrives back in the city she thought she’d left behind, her future uncertain, her past in tatters.
She soon finds herself a job at the Office for Lost People, tracking down the families of those who have died neglected and alone.
But what Margaret Penny cannot yet know, is just how entangled her own life will become in the death of one lonely stranger . . .
What’s good about it?
Book club really enjoyed the historical fiction that forms the foundations of this book. Paulson-Ellis is a very vivid writer and her descriptive prose transported us back to the past immediately.
The author was inspired to write the book after watching a documentary about council officers who have to uncover the past of people who die without a next of kin. The stories behind the trinkets and “stuff of life” intrigued her more than the paperwork that chartered the civic events of the deceased’s life and, so, the plot of the novel emerged. Paulson-Ellis confessed that her characters form before her plotlines and that is evident in the complex portraits of women throughout The Other Mrs Walker.
The book has been marketed as a detective story without a detective and that’s certainly true. The protagonist, Margaret Penny, is charged with unravelling the mystery of Mrs Walker’s identity, and that plot charges along nicely until its conclusion.
Paulson-Ellis is comfortable “fishing in the grey areas of life” and that’s definitely evident in The Other Mrs Walker. The book steers clear of saccharine sentiment and stomps into bleak, gritty narratives with some tough scenes.
It’s a strong debut novel and Paulson-Ellis has a distinctive style that’s both compelling and entertaining.
What’s not so good about it?
Book club felt there was a little too much going on it The Other Mrs Walker. There are multiple themes, time frames, characters and artefacts telling the story; fewer in all categories would have made this debut much more focused. Paulson-Ellis admitted in the Forum Books event that she had to strip some of the detail from the book – artefacts, in particular, that she’d added for fun rather than narrative purpose – and we felt that a few further omissions would have really made this book outstanding.
We wanted to know more about some of the supporting characters, particularly Dorothea who features in the early parts of the saga. I asked Paulson-Ellis if she would revisit any of the characters and she didn’t dismiss it. I’d love to see Dorothea’s story explored fully so fingers crossed for a prequel.
The Other Mrs Walker is an entertaining and well-written debut that is worth delving into.
Feature image credit: Emerald Street