Crime Fiction Alphabet: H is for Holding

Sometimes things come together beautifully: one book to both round off Persephone Reading Weekend and fill the letter H slot in my Crime Fiction Alphabet.

And this morning my book popped up on a lovely list in The Observer. A list of ten neglected literary works worthy of the BBC1 slot currently occupied by South Riding.

Such wonderful timing!

The book in question is The Blank Wall by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding.

Lucia Holley, is a wife and mother, living with her daughter, her son, and her father, while her husband serves in the navy during WWII.

Lucia’s daughter, Bee, is a worry to her. She has become involved with an older man who her mother thinks is quite unsuitable, and Lucia is determined to put a stop to the relationship.

Her efforts though lead to a whole series of events – murder, blackmail, fraud – that threaten to destroy the very things that Lucia is trying to protect.

It’s a simple story, but it’s so terribly well executed.

Lucia, her family, and their relationships are so well drawn. The central conflict between mother and daughter is particularly well done. Lucia went straight from school to marriage and motherhood, but her daughter wants a very different life. Neither can understand the other.

That spoke loudly and clearly of the changing times. So did the many small inconveniences of daily life in a small America town during wartime

Lucia’s life, once so certain, was certain no more.

She had to keep her family safe, but she struggled to balance that with the demands of her children, her father, her home, her community.

Her behaviour, her attitude, became less and less rational, and at times I was infuriated as I watched her, but I really couldn’t have come up with a better plan.

Overall the balance of the book  is lovely: perfect family and domestic details on one side of the scale, and classic suspense on the other.

And a mystery driven so well by character is a wonderful thing.

The ending maybe  tilted a little too much towards melodrama, but it didn’t matter.  I was already hooked by the story and the characters, and it did round things off nicely.

Elizabeth Sanxay Holding has been compared to both Ruth Rendell and Patricia Highsmith. I’d have to agree, but I’d say that she is more subtle than the former, less dark than the other, and that she writes lovelier prose than either.

And that suits her dove-grey Persephone jacket very well.


The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

“Each week, beginning Monday 10 January 2011, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”

So next week, I is for … ?

7 responses

  1. Wonderful review – thank you! I’ve added this to my TBR list as it keeps popping up at the moment in the blogosphere and your review has concinced me to seek it out.

  2. Jane – Thanks for this excellent review! You’ve chosen a great book and author for “H.” I must confess I haven’t read this yet, although I’ve heard about it. I’m about to remedy that…

  3. I was excited to see you had read this – it has been on my wish list for a while and now I’ve read your review I’m definitely going to hunt it down soon. I was intrigued by the mystery element as well.

    Wishing your eye a speedy healing 0:)

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