The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis was my Christmas read. It’s the perfect curl up in front of the fire while it’s cold outside novel with its mix of detective-esque plotline, Edinburgh scenery and what can only be described as Call the Midwife vibes.
After Mrs Walker dies alone in a cold Edinburgh flat on a snowy Christmas night, a glass of whiskey dropped from her hand and the remanence of a clementine on her side board, Margaret Penny gets the job of finding out who she was through the Office for Lost People. Margaret has returned home a lost herself, middle-aged without a career, a relationship or a life she can call her own. But what Margaret Penny doesn’t realise, is just how entangled her own life will become in the death of this dead old lady.
However, The Other Mrs Walker not quite so simple as just being a mystery. The plot jumps back and forth between 2011 and the 1940s-60s, and between Margaret and a group of three sisters Clementine, Ruby and Barbara. That kind of split-plot is something I would have normally avoided in the past, but here it works well. The jumps are well defined, and you always have a clear sense of where you are and which character you’re with, and all of the strands of the plot feed into each other and inform the narrative.
Female characters – mothers, daughters, and sisters – dominate the pages. Their relationships are fraught and complex, but never over-complicated. They’ve each got their strengths and flaws, but they’re all a little too mysterious to be fully “rounded”. It is a novel of real women though, to the extent that I would have been surprised had it not been written by a woman.
I’ve read a lot of crime thrillers and detective novels in my time and I’m not sure this will go down as one of the greatest I’ve read. The reader sometimes knows too much, and the resolutions don’t always feel quite satisfying enough. But, it is “a detective story with no detective” and in that category, it’s pretty strong.
If you’re looking for a cozy page-turner to ease you into the new year, then The Other Mrs Walker should definitely be on your considerations list.
SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER AS YOU READ
- Symbols repeat themselves quite frequently throughout the novel, what do you think the effect of this is? How well do you think this is done?
- There’s a lot of reference to family heirlooms (prized or not) do you have anything you would want to pass on to a loved one?
- The action of The Other Mrs Walker is driven by a set of female characters, how do you think the story would play out differently if it were about fathers, sons and brothers?
- What social commentary can you draw from how the mentally ill and the dead are treated in the story?
IF YOU WANT SOME FURTHER READING TRY…
- A short but sweet intro from The Guardian, that also offers a few recommendations of other great crime reads
- Allan Massie’s review for The Scotsman is what I see as a very fair appraisal of the novel
- The Portobello Book Blog did an interview with Mary Paulson-Ellis which is worth a read if you’d like to know a little more about the author
- The story behind the original cover design by Ami Smithson
IF YOU WANT MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS HAVE A LOOK AT…
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet
- Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone
- Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue