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Review: Andrew Taylor's 'Bleeding Heart Square' a tale of mystery

Aristocratic Lydia Langstone is not a practical woman. When she decides to leave her brutal husband, she packs a book but forgets a toothbrush.
So her family’s assumption that Lydia is too delicate to survive outside her cocoon of privilege is understandable. Nor has Lydia chosen the best time to escape. It is 1934, and London is full of the building tensions that presage World War II. Fascists and Communists clash in the streets and lecture halls of the city.
In Andrew Taylor’s Bleeding Heart Square, London is foggy, filthy, menacing, yet Lydia sets out to find her ne’er-do-well father in the ominously named square of the book’s title.
The boardinghouse where her father lives is, or was, owned by Miss Philippa Penhow. But Miss Penhow vanished a few years before, and now the sinister Major Serridge is the apparent owner. While no one can prove that there was any wrongdoing — Miss Penhow is said to have left a letter explaining that she has decided go to America — the taint of scandal remains.
Lydia begins to investigate Miss Penhow’s disappearance, at first, perhaps, as a way of distracting herself from her husband’s harassment and the prospect of poverty. She joins forces with Rory Wentwood, a fellow boarder who also wants to find Miss Penhow, his fiancee’s nearest relative.
As their search continues, Rory and Lydia are inadvertently involved in the city’s political warfare. While they struggle to stay out of the way of the various factions, they learn more than they wanted about themselves and those around them.
Though the mystery of Miss Penhow’s disappearance is at the heart of the novel, its themes and Taylor’s broader canvas take it out of the realm of genre fiction. He takes an unsparing look at the generation involved in both World Wars. As Lydia tells Rory, “They didn’t want to see anything too unpleasant so they didn’t.â€â€©Holly Fults can be reached at or (727) 892-2944.

Bleeding Heart Square
By Andrew Taylor
Hyperion, 432 pages, $25.99

Review: Andrew Taylor's 'Bleeding Heart Square' a tale of mystery 05/22/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 22, 2009 9:14am]
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