Once she started, Kate Atkinson’s career enjoyed a long run of success. Her debut work, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, in 1995, won the Whitbread (later Costa) Award. She will beat Costa two more times. She has successfully entertained millions of readers with a variety of books ranging from the Jackson Brodie detective series to her historical fiction.
Entertainment is a key feature of Atkinson’s excellent writing ability. She’s not trying to be smart – although she clearly is. She doesn’t try to preach – although her work often delivers profound messages about human nature. In essence, her books sell because they’re entertaining. And Temple of Gaiety provide quality entertainment services with large payloads.
It was 1926. World War I was over. Although traces of it have been felt deeply throughout society, Britain is growing in leaps and bounds in the new decade. Nellie Croker, a family survivor, is the owner of 5 nightclubs in London – a haunt of the aristocracy and royalty in the criminal underworld. She was leaving Holloway Prison after six months in prison for a license violation when we first met her. Maddox, the senior police officer on her salary, has not alone failed to protect her but is now intent on taking over her business.
Her adult children weren’t always at the top of their game. Niven, fresh from the European battlefield, looked at Nellie with suspicion if not mockery; Edith seems to be her only completely trustworthy person; Shirley and Betty were educated at Cambridge, leaning towards aristocratic marriages, “taking their education lightly”; Ramsay confidently imagined herself as a literary star; and Betty, “le Bébé,” have largely been forgotten.
Nellie enlists the “good cop” Chief Inspector Frobisher on her case, determined to shut her down and focus equally on investigating the disappearances of girls and young women, many of whom have entered Nellie’s club.
Frobisher teamed up with former war nurse and librarian Gwendolyn, recently getting rich with an unexpected inheritance. Gwendolyn travels from York in search of two 14-year-old girls, Freda and Florence, in search of a fortune in the entertainment business.
Add in glittering characters, some real, some imagined, about the London of the Roaring Twenties, and in this book you have a layered, multi-voiced, virginal mystery family drama. detective and (mild) romance vibrant, visceral and nothing short of brilliant. There was even a ghost thrown in. Sure, there are convenient coincidences but this is fiction and it’s very interesting.
Dickensian in his fleeting and unwavering glance at the reality of life in London for the poor and disaffected, especially regarding the female sex, is another success.
‘Shrines of Gaiety’ by Kate Atkinson, Doubleday, €14.99
Video of the day
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/books/book-reviews/shrines-of-gaiety-kate-atkinsons-roaring-twenties-romp-has-mobsters-molls-and-matriarchs-42030059.html Shrines of Gaiety: Kate Atkinson’s Roaring Twenties Has Bandits, Molls, and Matriarchs