Friday 29 March 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Good Messenger by John Simmons

"I very much enjoyed the character of Tommy, especially when, as a boy, he makes his discoveries and tries to make sense of the bewildering world and the people around him."


Family Drama

"1912: Tom Shepherd reluctantly stays for two weeks at Hardinge Hall. Mr and Mrs Hardinge are trying to arrange a marriage for their son Teddy to Iris, daughter of a local businessman. Tommy becomes the innocent messenger who delivers the secret arrangements.

Armistice Day 1918: The First World War has changed everything, especially the closeted world that Iris, Teddy and Tom existed in.
1927. Tom is now a journalist investigating the discovery of a baby's bones in the woods around Hardinge Hall. Past and present move towards a resolution that might still bring everything crashing down."

I admit I wasn't sure about this novel when I started. It is set as three distinctive parts written from three different periods of time and as three different voices and I found that I had to grow used to each new part and each new perspective. I also felt that the prologue was somewhat superfluous, the story proper starting at Chapter One - which engrossed me far more than the preamble - but the prologue made sense as I finished the novel (although I still did not think its inclusion was necessary.)

I immediately liked Tommy when I 'met' him. He is sent as a nine-year old to spend time in the Kent countryside, although at first we do not learn why. He is a rough-edged little lad finding himself way out of his comfort zone, bewildered and confused. I wanted to hug him, especially at the opening when he is enthralled by riding in a car. We then meet the residents of Hardinge Hall: Mr Hardinge and his not very pleasant wife, Teddy, their son, Muriel their daughter and Iris who is another guest at the house. Iris is intended, by the Hardinges, to become Teddy's wife and Tommy himself becomes an innocent 'go-between' messenger between the other characters, (and yes, reminiscent of the well known novel of that title).

Part two moves to 1918 and is Iris's story, her  doubts, hopes, fears, moods and experiences through the Armistace and life in war-torn London, while part three finds us in 1927 and back with Tommy - now Tom - a journalist following the intrigue of an assignment which involves his return to Hardinge Hall, the unravelling of secrets, lost loyalties and dark tragedies, but also the discovery of love and romance.

I enjoyed the character of Tommy, especially when, as a boy, he makes his discoveries and tries to make sense of the bewildering world and the people around him. I think it was missing the enchanted enjoyment of Tommy that slightly put me off part two. Personally, I think the author should have stuck to writing this as Tommy's story throughout, but I must emphasise that this is my own preference; other readers will relish the sensitive portrayal of the characters, Simmon's intelligent writing and the atmosphere of the WWI and post WWI period where changes to lifestyle, prejudices and class were great. 

The novel is not a fast-paced mystery adventure, it is character-led not action-based but that, I do feel, is its charm. Despite my comments above, this is a book to read and savour.

© Mary Chapple

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