By Susannah Stapleton (Pan Macmillan, £20 in hardback)
In my 30 years of bookselling I’ve had two major bestsellers: The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift and, of course, Harry Potter. I’m pleased to say The Morville Hours outsold good old HP by several hundred copies; testament to the quality of Katherine's writing and the excellent taste of my customers.
Now, though, I recommend a book that may well outdo those success stories: make way for Maud West!
The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective: Secrets and Lies in the Golden Age of Crime is the first book by Susannah Stapleton, known to us as Susie, and yes, I do admit to bias as Susie worked in the shop with me for many years before penning this masterpiece.
I’m not a huge fan of history, true crime, memoirs, or ‘cosy crime’... so reading the advance copy of Susie’s book was slightly daunting – would I like it? Would I ‘get’ it? Would I even care about Maud? The answer was a huge ‘YES’ as I quickly realised this book is actually in the most important genre of all – the genre of ‘amazingly skillful writing’ and of course, if a book falls into this genre, it really doesn’t matter what it’s about because reading it will always be a joy.
Maud West was full of contradictions and inconsistencies, yet she nevertheless carved a life for herself that confounded expectations and pushed boundaries. Susie takes on the detective role herself as she investigates Maud’s very hidden life against a backdrop of social history both glamorous and seedy. Questioning every aspect of Maud’s life, Susie finds a woman who had ‘taken the hand she’d been dealt at birth and transformed it into a life that would be the envy of millions. She was bad-tempered and sharp and tender and kind… She was determined to have it all – and she almost succeeded...’
I hadn’t expected this to be a page-turner, but I read it in a couple of sittings, desperate to know what Susie was going to find out next – you will too! It’s on sale at Wenlock Books; just ask us if you’d like a signed copy.