It is my absolute pleasure to be on the blog tour for Plenty Under the Counter by Kathleen Hewitt. This novel is one of four books written during the Second World War that have been reissued as part of the Imperial War Museum Wartime Classic series and released to commemorate the 70 year anniversary of the outbreak of war this September.
Plenty Under the Counter was written in 1943. Centred on and created against the backdrop of a capital city emerging from the ravages of the Blitz, the novel captures the mood and experiences of wartime London.
The hero of the novel is Flight – Lieutenant David Heron, and we find him on the final week of his convalescence leave. Having recently fallen in love, Heron is determined to make the most of his last week of freedom. But his plans to spend time with nurse Tess Carmichael are some what thwarted by the discovery of a body in the garden of his boarding house.
Intelligent, some what charming, an actor in the prewar years Heron is quickly drawn in to the intrigue surrounding the crime and consequently his last week is full of mystery, suspicion and not inconsiderable danger.
As the boarding house becomes the centre of the police investigation the spotlight is firmly on it’s residents, who all reveal themselves to be a complex and some what surprising collection of individuals.
Mrs Meake, or ‘Meakie’, is a long-standing friend of Heron’s. An ex- showgirl herself, she runs the boarding house with a skilled hand. Her nemesis is her rather mysterious and difficult daughter Thelma who’s associations and whereabouts are often difficult to pin down.
Terry Lipscott, is a merchant navy man. Often away from home, his appearance just after the murder is questionable, particularly when it comes to light he has been hiding a young woman in his room.
Miss Trindle, a rather naïve spinster, with a possible murky past moves out on the morning following the murder. Is her haste as she claims to distance herself from a house of ill repute or is there something more sinister behind it?
And what of the German Dr Hauptmann, quiet, unassuming but watchful? And Mr Cumberbatch, reclusive, always needing his coal replenished and seemingly obsessed with a dead wife? And don’t forget Annie the extraordinarily large new maid, desperate to confess to a murder she seems unlikely to have committed.
So begins, and I mean begins, for this list is by no means exhaustive, a cast of colourful characters all bound up in this web of intrigue. Hewitt repeatedly proves herself unrivalled in the ability to create engaging characters, principally through the use of dialogue. I would estimate that at least 60 percent of the novel is written in this form and it is the stronger for it. There is an immediate and vibrant sense of personality and colour that leaps off the page. So much so that it often feels that the reader is seated in the front row in a fast moving and beguiling play.
For the plot definitely zips along. The investigation is framed quite clearly by David Heron’s week of leave, meaning there isn’t time for any dilly dallying. And meaning we are treated to some expert plotting and beautiful character interactions. This isn’t a novel that gets bogged down in lengthy descriptions, it is character and action that drive it forward in the most convincing way.
It might be a timeless ‘who dunnit’ tale, entertaining and with a constant undertone of pathos and humour, but Hewitt has also clearly captured the essence of the time period.
The very title Plenty Under The Counter encapsulates the reality of the war. It is a time of shortage and making do. It is a time of great pulling together but also of some opportunistic activities and underhand dealing. There is the feeling that the war and the extreme of circumstances around it have brought people’s inherent characteristics to the fore, for good or evil.
Reading and reviewing this book has been an absolute pleasure. I enjoyed every word. However when Anne Cater extended her invitation to be involved it was a personal reason that made me accept.
My lovely Grandad passed away this year. He was 96 and had been a Tank Driver in WW2. Having served in Africa, he ended the war in Italy fighting in the battle of Monte Cassino. I was hoping we would get to commemorate this milestone Anniversary together but it was unfortunately not to be. So being involved in this book tour and the reissue of these period novels feels like my part in honouring my Grandad and those who served alongside him.
About the author …
Kathleen Hewitt was a prolific British author who wrote more than twenty novels during her lifetime. A parson’s daughter, she lived a varied and interesting life including fashion designing, modelling and film extra work. Following the break down of her marriage she travelled to South Africa where she lived on a farm. Her return to England saw her open a hat shop in Reading.
She wrote throughout her life but wasn’t published until the age of 39. Her main genre of work was mysteries and thrillers, but she also published her Autobiography The Only Paradise in 1945.
She died in 1980.
And there is more…
For more information, reviews and reactions to Plenty Under The Counter check out the rest of the book tour. Details below…