A lady’s slipper

© C A Lovegrove

The Silence of Herondale
by Joan Aiken.
Introduction by Lizza Aiken.
Orion Books, 2019 (1964)

… a silent village, a wandering fugitive whom no one seemed anxious to discuss, a missing pistol, a face at a window, a damp patch in a dead man’s room—but now? The deliberately half-cut rope could not be easily dismissed.

‘The Silence of Herondale’

Deborah Lindsay is a young Canadian teacher, orphaned and now jobless in 1960s London. Following a burglary at her lodgings she accepts a position tutoring Careen Gilmartin, a precocious 13-year-old who has achieved fame as a playwright. Unfortunately the teenager has disappeared from her hotel room and could be heading for a number of places.

The girl’s aunt, Marion Morne, and her rather vulpine associate Willy Rienz suggest Deborah heads for Yorkshire where Careen’s grandfather is dying, and against her better judgement Deborah is bounced into taking a sleeper train to Leeds before heading for Herondale. Unbeknown to Deborah (but as we readers know with hindsight) the UK winter of 1962-3 was the coldest for more than 200 years, with blizzards and snowdrifts blanketing the British Isles from Christmas to March—and Christmas is just around the corner as Deborah’s train steams north.

And so the scene is set for Joan Aiken’s modern Gothic thriller, with its echoes of Brontë classics, nods to children’s classics, and touches of autobiography meshing with crime and thriller genres.

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