I loved Lucy Atkins’ debut book The Missing One. It was in fact one of my favourite books of 2014. I’ve also read her two subsequent novels.
Magpie Lane is Atkins’ latest release and the thing that’s interested me most about her books is that, though are often centred around secrets and strained relationships, they all feel quite different.
by Lucy Atkins
Published by Quercus
Genres: General Fiction, Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: B07SD56T2W, 9781786485571
When the eight-year-old daughter of an Oxford College Master vanishes in the middle of the night, police turn to the Scottish nanny, Dee, for answers.
As Dee looks back over her time in the Master's Lodging - an eerie and ancient house - a picture of a high achieving but dysfunctional family emerges: Nick, the fiercely intelligent and powerful father; his beautiful Danish wife Mariah, pregnant with their child; and the lost little girl, Felicity, almost mute, seeing ghosts, grieving her dead mother.
But is Dee telling the whole story? Is her growing friendship with the eccentric house historian, Linklater, any cause for concern? And most of all, why was Felicity silent?
Felicity is already missing when we first meet Dee. She’s being questioned by detectives, so in some ways their questions shape the book’s narrative, though she doesn’t tell them everything, sticking only to what they ask. We however, are privy to Dee’s thoughts, including the events leading up to Felicity’s disappearance.
Atkins does a great job at eking out Dee’s own backstory as well. We’re hooked, wondering what what secrets she’s keeping. We’re given hints about her past, though not offered any context for some time. In some ways she’s a good fit for life in Oxford amongst families of leading academics yet she makes a lot of effort to remain distant from those she meets.
Through Dee we follow her nascent relationship with 8yr old Felicity – who has selective mutism since the death of her mother four years earlier. And it’s through Dee’s eyes we view Felicity’s relationship with her father and stepmother.
It’s hard to say too much without giving anything away, but—in relaying the months she’s spent in the household—the usually circumspect Dee is rather critical of Felicity’s father and stepmother. In this sense Dee is very black / white in her judgement (and we eventually learn why). I felt Atkins was less-so and offering we readers the option of taking a more sympathetic viewpoint.
I suspect this discussion would be a good one for bookclubs. I wondered, for example about that fine line (or not) between indifference and neglect. For most of my friends, their children come before everything else, even partners, but I know others may prioritise themselves, other relationships, or even work over their offspring.
I should also mention the house—the old and reverent Master’s Lodge—plays a central role here. The setting is eerie and atmospheric and there’s a pervading sense of menace. I dislike gothic type novels so was worried we’d dip into the supernatural but Atkins takes us in a different direction. I’ve ticked the ‘thriller / suspense” genre option here, but like her other novels, there’s less a feeling of fear, but more one of foreboding.
Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins was published by Quercus and now available.
I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.