I don’t know about all of you but when I am reading a book it’s like a film version appears in my brain somewhere whilst the words are in front of me. Well, that is what happens to me and I can’t really put it any better than that, though I am sure we all see the images differently. Reading ‘The Blank Wall’ by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding is the first time I can ever say that a book has played in my head rather like a black and white matinee movie you watch to relax with and be entertained by on a Sunday afternoon. It was a truly delightful experience, even though it is a suspense novel.
‘The Blank Wall’ is set during World War II not long after the Holley family have moved into a new lakeside home. Well, not all of them have moved for Lucia’s husband Tom is out at war and so when their daughter Bee starts seeing a rather disreputable looking older man Ted Darby, Lucia is left in the difficult position of having to deal with it. However fate intervenes as the next day, and this isn’t a spoiler as it happens early on in the book, Lucia finds Ted dead in their boat house. Deciding it must have been her father, who also lives with the family, she hides the body on a nearby marshy island and things start to go from bad to worse.
The first thing that I loved about ‘The Blank Wall’ was the speed in which Sanxay Holding sets up the story, within a few chapters you have a murder and also a huge amount of back story that could give several people several motives for doing it. This could lead to your run of the mill, though always exciting as they are, whodunit murder mysteries instead this becomes the start of a really suspense filled tale of how Lucia copes as the situation spirals and tries to save her family in her own rather bumbling yet highly strung and reactionary way. But is she protecting her family or could she be making everything worse?
‘She got a book and read it in bed, with stubborn determination. It was a mystery story she had got out of the lending library for her father, and she was not fond of mystery stories. Nobody in them ever seemed to feel sorry about murders, she had said. They’re presented as a problem m’dear, her father said. What’s more, they generally show the murdered person as someone you can’t waste any pity on. I’m sorry for them, she said, I hate it when they’re found with daggers sticking in them and their eyes all staring from poison and things like that.’
The second thing I loved about the book was Lucia herself and the fact that the novel is narrated through her internal dialogue as well as the external she has with the other characters. This gives us a real insight into just how difficult it is to go from, and remain, the idyllic housewife and mother whilst trying to cover up a murder and possible scandal. As Lucia unravels herself there is the entertaining elements of whether she should wash up, make the beds and clean the baths or go and meet with a blackmailer (this had me in hysterics) yet also an unexpected emotional sting thrown in as the cracks in the relationships with her family (her children are vile, so of course rather readable) members that she hasn’t been aware of before.
‘If Bee comes back and finds the dishes in the sink… Even unsuspicious Father would think that was queer… What reason can I give for running out of the house?
“Oh I don’t know!” she cried aloud in angry desperation. “It’s nobody’s business.”
She decided to finish washing the dishes, and leave them draining. Then I’ll tell them, if they ask me, that I felt like being alone. I’ll say I wanted to think. Why shouldn’t I? Other people do.’
Whilst it does have a domestic setting, ‘The Blank Wall’ is a great thrilling novel that slowly but surely notches the suspense up as you read. You can never be too sure what people’s motives really are and you never know if Lucia is making things even worse than they already are. I picked it up and could barely be parted from it. A truly entertaining, and also rather endearing, suspense novel from an author who deserves to be much more widely read. I will definitely have to root out some more Sanxay Holding novels in the future.