Chosen by Sukhy Cooke

London is still in the shadow of the end of the Second World War and has issued calls for assistance in rebuilding the ruins from its brothers across the Atlantic.

With hope in his heart and in search of somewhere to call his home, Lawrie Matthews boards the Empire Windrush to help with the crisis.

After a temporary stay in the deep level shelter in Clapham, he finds himself a respectable job as a postman and soon takes residence in a tiny shared room next door to the girl he has fallen in love with; Evie Coleridge.

A Jazz musician to boot, he earns extra cash touring the music halls in Soho most nights, playing his clarinet to adoring party crowds.

Laurie and Evie’s lives are tantalisingly full of hope and possibility; they’re young, in love and everything is going swimmingly. Until one day, whilst doing some “extra” delivery work, Postman Laurie makes a gruesome discovery.

Laurie and his companions, who were initially welcomed to London with open arms, quickly have fingers pointed at them and blame and suspicion over the discovery threatens to tear London apart.

The story turns into a race against time to unravel the truth of the tragedy that has struck the community and both Evie and Laurie must decide who they trust.

I read this book with the sound of Jazz ringing in my ears, the smell of 40’s London up my nostrils and surrounded by a cloud of cigarette smoke. So vivid is Hare’s writing style; her effortless prose draws you right in and it is wonderfully difficult to escape its clutches and put the book down.

Hare creates vivacious protagonists in Laurie and Evie along with a cast of unforgettable characters. I enjoyed watching their personalities develop from the many flashbacks to Laurie and Evie’s early days just after the Empire Windrush had arrived.

Whilst I absolutely adored this book, I found it difficult to read in places. So painful was the stigma placed on the black community; their lives swirled about with so many negative connotations along with fear, shame and even duplicity.

The dancehalls became the only safe haven; where barriers were broken down and colour and race dissipated. Hips swayed, dresses flourished and drinks flowed. The drama of the dance halls drew everyone away from the simmering misgivings, disquiet and unrest that became prevalent in London. Like a tonic, Jazz brought the community together, even in the most testing of times.

I lived and worked in Central London for ten years and each place that Hare called upon to tell her tale holds an incredibly special place in my heart because of important life events that happened there: This is definitely a book for London lovers!

This Lovely City evokes a multitude of emotions, ranging from anger, heart break and despair, right through through to hope, happiness and love. The post war gloom is temporarily lifted with this compelling story of courage and loyalty.

A story steeped in sadness and injustice, This Lovely City is an atmospheric and incredibly poignant read; a triumphant debut and a scintillating tale.

This Lovely City was out 12th March in hardcover from HQ Stories.

Sukhy Cooke – reader and reviewer from Warwickshire

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