REVIEW: Miss Aldridge Regrets by Louise Hare
The glittering RMS Queen Mary. A nightclub singer on the run. An aristocratic family with secrets worth killing for.
London, 1936. Lena Aldridge wonders if life has passed her by. The dazzling theatre career she hoped for hasn’t worked out. Instead, she’s stuck singing in a sticky-floored basement club in Soho, and her married lover has just left her. But Lena has always had a complicated life, one shrouded in mystery as a mixed-race girl passing for white in a city unforgiving of her true racial heritage.
She’s feeling utterly hopeless until a stranger offers her the chance of a lifetime: a starring role on Broadway and a first-class ticket on the Queen Mary bound for New York. After a murder at the club, the timing couldn’t be better, and Lena jumps at the chance to escape England. But death follows her onboard when an obscenely wealthy family draws her into their fold just as one among them is killed in a chillingly familiar way. As Lena navigates the Abernathy’s increasingly bizarre family dynamic, she realizes that her greatest performance won’t be for an audience, but for her life.
CW – excessive drinking, smoking, attempted sexual assault, mention of underage prostitution, on page death, (sometimes extreme) racial slurs.
Dear Ms. Hare,
From the blurb I knew that this would be more of a mystery and historical fiction. That turned out to be the case. I will admit that I found myself guessing and second guessing who I thought the murderer was and it wasn’t until fairly late in the book that I had a firm villain in mind. Well, even with that, there was still a final twist I didn’t see coming so well done on that. But … there are things that happen in the book – actions that various characters take that do make sense but in many cases aren’t savory. Not at all. The final outcome and fallout might leave readers shocked and unhappy.
Lena Aldridge and her father always got by even if by the skin of their teeth. Alfie was always extremely protective of Lena, not letting her know early on how much his skin color affected his ability to find jobs in London. Though Lena can pass, she’s chosen not to as anyone who knows she’s Alfie’s daughter will know that she’s mixed race. After Alfie’s death Lena has continued to audition for singing and acting jobs but as the story begins, she’s singing in a wretched basement club, working for an awful man who also runs a “knocking shop” which employs underaged girls. Even without all that, Tommy would be a shit as he cheats on his wife who is Lena’s childhood bestie. When someone kills Tommy in full view of the club, neither Lena nor Maggie are crying about it.
Lena has an out though as an old NYC friend of her father’s, with whom Alfie had had a falling out, has sent a man to seek Lena out and offer her a job on Broadway. Sailing first class on the Queen Mary to New York, Lena hopes that things are finally going her way. Unfortunately, she’s totally wrong but will she survive the crossing to realize this?
The plot moves back and forth between the events that took place in London the week before Lena leaves and the Atlantic crossing. Most is told from Lena’s first person POV though some is told by the villain. There are a few clues dropped here and there during the killer POV sections that can be used to try and sort out who this is. Given some things that happen over the course of the book and some red herrings, it should have been easier to figure out whodunnit but it’s not until the end and some final villain exposition that things all make sense. Clues are there and I wasn’t totally surprised but human nature has to be allowed for to account for the motivation behind the murders.
Most of the characters are not good people. Just about everyone has things they’ve done, or not done, that will make readers pull back frowning from having sympathy for them. Some of them were faced with hard choices up to and including “that person or me” survival situations. That being said, I read the final 20 pages in a bit of shock. “No!” I thought. “Really? Wow. Huh.” I won’t say more than that.
The depiction of life among the struggling in London was well done. The shipboard details were good but I didn’t connect with these sections as much. There are class and racial divides all over the place and just another warning – some racial and ethnic slurs are in the book as well as a privileged class viewpoint of Hitler. One character tries to impress some hard truths upon Lena as to what she, a mixed race woman, might encounter in NYC. I found it hard to believe that she would be as naive about this as she is depicted as being.
The moral ambiguity of so many of the characters is probably realistic but it does make it hard to care about what happens to some of them. Even using the excuse that this person was a slime didn’t make me willing to just write off that they’d been killed. In the end, I enjoyed the historical details, the self discovery, the locked room feel, and was glad that one person survived but whoa, there isn’t much moral redemption to be found here. B-
Other reviews have also commented favorably on the mystery aspect of this story, enough so that I’m really intrigued. Moral ambiguity isn’t usually a problem for me, provided I can care about the character(s). We’ll see. Thanks for the review.
@Darlynne: I would actually enjoy seeing what Lena gets up to after the end of this story. Louise Hare is a good writer and I sped through the book to the end.