Today is my stop on the blog tour for this novella. Thank you to Anne Cater of Random Things Blog Tours for the invitation to take part, and to Anne and Silverwood Books for my copy of this novella.
A friendship. A murder. A life that will never be the same.
The year is 1955, the location picturesque Devon. In a house by the River Dart, schoolgirl Josephine Kennedy posts invitations to her twelfth birthday party – a party that never takes place. Horrific violence is committed that night in the family home, leaving all of its occupants dead.
Based on a disturbing real-life crime, this compelling story explores Josephine’s fate through the prism of friends and family – the victims and survivors who unwittingly influence the events that led up to the tragedy.
Josephine’s best friend, Susan, is haunted by the secrets of the birthday house. Can she ever find a way of making peace with the past?
As a true crime junkie my interest was piqued when I received the email about this book. I had never heard of the crime that it is based on, but I loved the idea of a work of fiction based on true events that explores not only the crime itself, but the effects on those who were left behind to grieve and wonder what they could have done to prevent it happening.
This novella is a character study of family, friendships, betrayal, grief and mental illness. It was engaging, fascinating and wonderfully written. The beautiful setting of Devon is a striking contrast to the darkness of the murders. Told from multiple points of view that move between dual timelines, we first see the story unfold from the eyes of Susan, Josephine’s best friend, in the present day. Now an adult, she is looking back at what was taken from her and her friend that day, and wondering how different life would be if Josephine was still alive. Susan wasn’t told the truth about how her friend died at first and only learned the extent of what she went through many years later. She ponders on how this has shaped her grieving process and who she is, and looks back at her memories of her best friend while trying to understand what drove an adoring father to kill his family.
Reading the different points of view enabled the reader an understanding that many of those who were left behind never had. All of the Kennedy family narrate chapters that lead us right up until their final moments. Pamela Kennedy is a dutiful wife and loving mother. She tells us about her marriage, what happens behind closed doors, and the things she never dares to say out loud, especially in the months leading to her death. Josephine Kennedy loves her Daddy but not his “monster moods”. She tells us her worries about him, about her best friend Susan and her hopes for the future before her life is cruelly snatched from her. Harold Kennedy was a troubled, angry man who, despite his adoration for his wife and daughter, is someone they fear and tiptoe around. The turmoil he carried inside was overwhelming and these insights into his thoughts made events all the more tragic and heartbreaking for me and his chapter was the most interesting of all.
The Birthday House offers an intriguing analysis of what motivates a man to kill his entire family and illustrates how we can influence other people and events without realising, sometimes with disastrous results. It is a dark, poignant and heart-rending read that I would recommend to anyone interested in these subjects and crime.
One last thing: reading the author’s notes at the end of this book is essential. In it she explains more about the real-life crime on which the book is based, and her reasons for writing about it in this way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I started writing in a red shiny exercise book when I was seven years old. But in that time and place it was an ‘invalid’ activity, was overlooked, but never went away. It was many years before I felt able to call myself ‘writer’.
But there came a day when the phrase ‘I am a writer’ no longer sounded pretentious, but legitimate, and even necessary. Was it because I had a writing room instead of the corner of a landing? Or because I spent more time writing? Or because I’d got better at it? Or because I get miserable and bad-tempered if I don’t write? Probably a combination of all of the above.
Writing is my third career. The first was as a social worker with children and families, a job I loved, but left because I could no longer cope with the system.
This led to a freelance career as an independent management consultant, helping people to handle emotions in the work context. I worked in the IT industry, in companies large and small, as well as public organisations. Later I became involved in research projects concerned with the multi-disciplinary approach to social problems such as child abuse. So, in a sense, I had come full-circle.
All these experiences feed into the process of writing fiction, while my non-fiction book ‘The Wise Woman Within’ resulted indirectly from the consultancy work and my subsequent PhD thesis,‘Bridging Incommensurable Paradigms’, which is available from the School of Management at the University of Bath.
I live in Devon and visit Cornwall frequently and these land and seascapes are powerful influences which demand a presence in my writing.
Writers’ groups and workshops are a further invaluable source of inspiration and support and I attend various groups locally and sign up for creative courses in stunning locations whenever I can. I try doing writing practice at home but there is no substitute for the focus and discipline achieved among others in a group.
I have written some short stories and recently signed up for a short story writing course to explore this genre in more depth.
I live with my husband in South Devon and enjoy being involved in a lively local community.