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Crime mystery set in 1946 Clapham, LONDON

1st May 2024

The Midnight Man by Julie Anderson, crime mystery set in 1946 Clapham, London.

Crime mystery set in 1946 Clapham, LONDON

The book is set over the period of several days, in and around The South London Hospital for Women and Children, a real medical facility that was established by Maud Chadburn and Eleanor Davies-Colley, offering health services to women. There was a real need for a hospital that specialised in women’s health – just as the NHS was being founded – in November 1946.

The post WW2 period – captured well on many levels in this novel – was a time that saw the rights of women side-lined and their place in society diminished. After playing an important part in the war, the women were expected to return to subservience, get married and generally cause no waves.

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As the novel opens, a chance encounter at the hospital sees Faye befriending Ellie, and these two women soon form a firm friendship, although tested at times. Early on, it transpires that a young woman – Jane – has been murdered, her flatmate already missing, and both Faye and Ellie are frustrated by the lack of investigation into the woman’s death. Ellie, from her bedroom, did in fact hear a perturbing encounter between a man and a woman, and as the hours pass, she is convinced that the woman she heard screaming was Jane. She has huge regret that she didn’t somehow intervene or raise the alarm.

Small clues lead Faye to believe that there are perhaps illicit goings-on at the hospital and soon the women formulate an hypothesis, as they become aware of unfolding facts.

Part of the story is played out in the deep level bomb shelter tunnels that run under this part of South London, which adds a real frisson of spookiness to the story. Danger is just around the corner at every turn…

The story almost feels like a tribute to women’s endeavours and to the hospital, brought to life through words, even though it no longer exists. It was closed by Wandsworth Health Authority in 1984, on grounds of cost efficiency, a claim strongly disputed at the time. The closure was fought for several years…

Crime mystery set in 1946 Clapham, LONDON

The book cover certainly evokes the post war period and over on Instagram the author goes into more detail about the feel she and the cover designer were looking for (as referenced in the image on the left). It shows a shadowy man who, we know, is the murderer, which of course is central to the story. But, the cover in no way reflects the female-centric nature of the novel, which, I felt, was actually, the main arc of the narrative. To me, the cover feels very masculine, and I don’t think it would appeal to me if I came across it in a bookshop, although I have seen a lot of praise for it. So, I guess it might be worth saying – don’t let yourself be put off by the cover in this instance.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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Catch the author on Twitter X @jjulieanderson and on Instagram @julieandersonwriter 

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