Review

Bleeding Heart Square

by Andrew Taylor

The legend states that there was a great masked ball at the
Spanish ambassador’s home in London with members of royalty
in attendance. A beautiful young woman is there with her much older
husband --- a man she does not love as the marriage was arranged
between their two families. She meets a charming stranger with whom
she dances, drinks and talks for much of the night as her husband
is busy at the gambling tables. As dawn approaches, she and her new
acquaintance dance their way down the grand staircase and out the
front door of the house. In all the excitement of the ball, no one
notices that the young lady is missing --- until it is too
late.

They find her the next morning in Bleeding Heart Square, still
in her ball gown but in a state of serious disorder. Upon further
inspection, her body is revealed to have been cut open in horrific
fashion, and her bleeding heart lies beside her on the
cobblestones. The charming stranger was never seen by anyone again,
and rumor has it he was the devil himself.

This legend is told to the narrator of the story, Lydia
Langstone, by one of the creepy residents of Bleeding Heart Square
in 1934 London. This decaying cul-de-sac serves as the primary
location and title for Andrew Taylor’s latest novel. Lydia
has escaped an abusive marriage to Marcus Langstone and seeks
refuge at the Bleeding Heart Square apartment of her estranged
father, Captain Ingelby-Lewis, who abandoned his daughter when she
was only two years old and hasn’t seen her since. She has
nowhere else to turn and hopes that seeking him out will give her
the opportunity to hide away from her husband’s wealthy
family until she can sort things out.

Captain Ingelby-Lewis resides at the Rushmere Hotel within
Bleeding Heart Square and is reluctant to allow Lydia to stay for
very long. Not only does he not wish to get into the middle of her
marital squabble, he also recognizes that his home is not a
suitable place for his well-to-do daughter-to-be. Bleeding Heart
Square and the surrounding area of London’s West End are
filled with grimy and suspicious characters who appear to have
stepped right off the pages of OLIVER TWIST. Lydia is determined to
separate from her husband and maintain a life independent of him
and his wealth. She is able to obtain a job in a solicitor’s
office and begins to earn her own keep.

Simultaneous to Lydia’s story is the plot line involving
struggling journalist Rory Wentwood. Rory, acting on behalf of his
former fiancée, Fenella Kensley, is investigating the Bleeding
Heart Square area in search of clues as to the disappearance of one
Philippa Penhow. Miss Penhow, the former landlady of the Rushmere
Hotel and Fenella’s aunt, has not been seen or heard from in
over four years, and foul play is suspected. What happened to her?
Could the current landlord, Major Joseph Serridge, be involved in
her disappearance? What was the actual relationship between Miss
Penhow and Major Serridge, and what is behind his mysterious past?
All of these questions are foremost on Rory’s mind as he
attempts to pose as a job-hunting journalist in need of a room when
he appears at the doorstep of the Rushmere Hotel seeking
lodging.

Rory turns out not to be alone in his suspicions about Major
Serridge. Lurking around Bleeding Heart Square is a seedy
plainclothes policeman who is obsessively watching the square and
its inhabitants, particularly those residing at the Rushmere. To
further heighten suspicion, strange parcels addressed to Major
Serridge and containing rotting animal hearts begin arriving at the
hotel. Do these strange packages have anything to do with the
disappearance of Miss Penhow, or are they merely symbolic of the
legend for which Bleeding Heart Square is named?

It is inevitable that the storylines of this deftly written
mystery will cross, and once they do things really take off. The
strange policeman, Mr. Narton, first reveals himself to Rory, and
they share information about their mutual interest in the
disappearance of Miss Penhow. Narton is positive that Major
Serridge is behind it; he suspects that murder has taken place and
charges Rory with the responsibility of helping him prevent another
homicide. Lydia has found the fancy of Major Serridge and may very
well be the next target of his nefarious affections. Rory befriends
Lydia and they in turn share information and work together to try
to unravel the few clues they have --- all the time waiting for the
next grisly parcel to arrive.

BLEEDING HEART SQUARE is not without an historical premise as an
additional plot line is introduced involving Lydia’s
estranged husband, Marcus, and his wealthy and influential friend,
Rex Fisher. Fisher is in league with a Fascist group that is
growing and gaining followers in London. These
“blackshirts” are actually precursors of the pre-WWII
movement in Europe that eventually results in the Nazi party and
creation of the Axis of Evil, which is the driving force behind
that terrible war. Fisher is using his influence and wealth to
support Marcus Langstone in a run for Parliament that will help
secure a foothold for the Fascists within the British government.
Another plot line has Fenella Kensley and Rory Wentwood getting
involved with a public meeting of the Fascist group that erupts in
violence.

This complex and multi-layered novel never fails to surprise
with each turn, and Andrew Taylor introduces each chapter with a
portion from Miss Penhow’s 1930 diary. As the investigation
into her disappearance deepens, much is learned about the nature of
her relationship with Major Serridge. Additionally, Lydia
Langstone’s own lineage is slowly revealed, and we find that
her role in the story and placement in Bleeding Heart Square may
have put her in mortal danger that she never could have expected.
As with any good mystery, the questions mount and the past returns
to take its revenge upon the present in ways the reader will never
see coming.

Andrew Taylor has been a highly successful mystery writer in the
U.K. for a few decades and has recently found success in the U.S.
as well. Probably his most notable U.S. novel to date has been AN
UNPARDONABLE CRIME (titled THE AMERICAN BOY in the U.K.), winner of
the 2003 CWA Historical Dagger Award for a mystery involving a
young American boy studying in London by the name of Edgar Allan
Poe. With this intelligent historical mystery, Taylor has firmly
entered territory familiar to readers of both Charles Dickens and
contemporary writers like Anne Perry. BLEEDING HEART SQUARE does
not fail to hold up that legacy and makes for a read that both
mystery and historical fiction lovers will enjoy.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on December 22, 2010

Bleeding Heart Square
by Andrew Taylor

  • Publication Date: January 19, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • ISBN-10: 1401310141
  • ISBN-13: 9781401310141