Book Title: A Commonplace Killing
Author: Siân Busby
Publication date: 02/01/2014
Publishers: Short Books
Genre: Mystery crime drama
Official plot description: London, July 1946. A woman’s body is found in a disused bomb site off the Holloway Road. She is identified as Lillian Frobisher, “a respectable wife and mother” who lived with her family nearby.
The police assume that Lillian must have been the victim of a sexual assault; but when the autopsy finds no evidence of rape, they turn their attention to her private life… How did she come to be in the bomb site, a well-known lovers’ haunt? Why was her husband seemingly unaware that she’d failed to come home on the night she was killed?
In this deeply evocative crime drama, Siân Busby strips away the veneer of stoicism and respectability in post-war Britain to reveal a society riven with disillusionment and loss.
“This is a bleakly beautiful crime story set in post-war London…as a portrait of a city emerging from the barbarity of war, it is a fitting monument to a writer of rare subtlety” – Mail on Sunday
Hey guys! So today I have completed my book review of A Commonplace Killing. This is the third book that has been sent to me by Short Books UK. I started reading it on my train journeys to and from work and then I finished it off this weekend.
Siân Busby published four books in her lifetime. This book in particular was created by her pure passion and enjoyment for writing, jotting down the last pages in her notebook in the final weeks of her life. This paperback edition contains a moving introduction by Robert Peston who explains the circumstances in which she wrote her final book and commends her unwavering strength and her talent for storytelling.
From the very first pages of this books I took notice of the immense attention to detail that the author took when portraying 1940s post-war London. I became fully immersed in the time period in which the story is set. The greasy spoon cafés, the police HQ a claustrophobic hovel of cigarette smoke, the dusty and derelict streets and the bomb struck housing estates. The visual description in this book is outstanding, the story really comes to life.
I think it is important for the reader to gain a good understanding of the setting in order to fully understand the characters and their actions. The situation in London after WWII ended was bleak. The residents of the city, just like everyone else, expected to experience some kind of return to normality after the ceasefire was declared. However, as is so accurately summarised in the editor’s note on ‘Sources and Inspiration,’ Aurea Carpenter wrote:
“…men returning with so much hidden damage to women who been liberated socially and sexually by the conflict, and their struggle to return to ‘normality’ in peacetime” – page 294 (2013)
The war had such a huge impact on individuals and on society as a whole. London was in the grip of a fierce crime wave. An abundance of theft, violence and murder. It was very interesting to read about this particular time period as I have not learn much about it in-depth before. I have learnt a lot about the war itself, but it is extremely saddening to think of the disastrous impact it had upon the world, even after it subsided.
I love the way the storyline is unveiled to the reader. First of all, it is interesting to read a murder investigation from the perspective of the detective on the case. I haven’t read many crime novels before, this may even by just my second one, since reading In Cold Blood by Truman Capote at school.
A Commonplace Killing also provides the reader with the backstory of the murdered woman. Busby includes her life leading up to her murder. We see the murder story from the detectives perspective, the victims perspective and a small amount of the murderers perspective (more on that later).
The different points of view run alongside each other, so you don’t know exactly what happened from either side until the two threads of storyline come together. You’re trying to solve the murder along with the detective whilst waiting to read what happened from the victim’s point of view. And, in the end, we know more than the detective will ever know.
Busby’s characters are so strong. She wrote with such consideration of their feelings and motives. The two characters we can understand the most deeply are Lillian Frobisher and Detective Inspector Jim Cooper. Let’s start with Lillian.
Lillian is an unhappy characters who dreams of escaping her life for something more extravagant and fabulous. She is fed up with the treatment given to her by her good for nothing husband and “friend,” Evelyn, who doesn’t pay her in money or gratitude for the roof she puts over her head. She wants to live a life where people treat her with the respect she deserves, where she feels wanted, happy and free. But the current circumstances of her life will not allow this dream to become a reality.
She longs to stay young forever and hold on to whatever “sex appeal” she has left. She dreams of being bought cocktails in classy bars and holding a man’s hand steady as he lights her cigarettes. What she gets is a husband who cheats on her in their own house with a common women she took in with feelings of sympathy at the end of the war. We cannot help but feel the hopelessness with which the character views her own life. It makes her murder all the more tragic.
Jim Cooper is similar, in many way, to Frobisher. He also carries with him this heightened sense of melancholic optimism. He wants to hope for better future. He is bored with the monotony of routine investigation, but unable to escape his investigative mind developed from years on the job. He finds himself tied up in the Frobisher case perhaps more than he would like to be.
We learnt about his previous relationship with a women who left him. He talks of his love for her and his grief stricken thoughts of a broken relationship. But, he also recalls the good times and hopes he can be happy again. However, as the novel progresses, he starts to realise this may never happen for him. It is a very sad ending to the novel and I can only hope that Cooper did find some sense of happiness in the remainder of his life. I feel that his infatuation with policewoman Tring was more of a reflection of his desires as opposed to actual romantic love.
The murderer, a spiv called Dennis, is also a fairly ambiguous character. In the end we are made to feel sorry for him. He endured such fear during the war and suffered wounds that effect his memory. It was completely believable that he could not remember the murder. This sort of hopelessness is a very significant theme in the novel. These characters are lost and their circumstances are unforgiving and dangerous.
I would really recommend this book for those who enjoy fiction based on fact or crime. But is it also, at its heart, a truthful portray of…
“Madness, depression and the hard-to-fathom workings of the human mind” – page xii, Robert Peston (2012)