Bleeding Heart Square
Andrew Taylor
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Buy *Bleeding Heart Square* by Andrew Taylor online

Bleeding Heart Square
Andrew Taylor
448 pages
March 2009
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Murder, jealousy and the perils of money weave throughout Taylor’s serpentine Bleeding Heart Square. In a story where hearts remain restless and yearning, broken and bleeding, the untrustworthy and needy are tied to an ill-fated romance and a desperate marriage. After being physically abused by her husband, Marcus, privileged Lydia Langston flees to the relative security of Bleeding Heart Square, a ramshackle series of flats hidden away in Central London where the mysterious legend of the “bleeding heart” still reverberates, even after all these years.

Uneasily ensconced in a top-floor flat with her drunken and shiftless father, Captain Ingleby-Lewis, Lydia tries to remake her life, slipping into a whole new routine as she learns how to cook and clean and look after herself. At night Lydia finds solace by the fireside, reading Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, content for the moment at least to turn her back on privilege and Marcus’s fanatical pleas for her to return.

A colorful cast of tenants currently live at Bleeding Heart Square, especially enigmatic landlord Joseph Serridge, once romantically tied to the Square’s previous owner, the vulnerable and needy Miss Philippa Penhow, a middle-aged spinster who has apparently vanished, rumored to have met an old boyfriend and then left with him for new life in America.

At the core of this moribund Dickensian mystery are Philippa’s diary entries, composed of frantic jottings of her romantic courtship. She was buoyed along by the possibilities of true love then tricked into hastily arranging a transfer of all of her funds to Joseph Serridge. Reportedly wowing Philippa with romance beyond her wildest imaginings - “her rosy spectacles were so thick that she was the next best thing to blind” - Serridge was able to gain control of the Square, using the rest of her wealth to buy a picaresque farm near the village of Rawling in the county of Essex.

It's not surprising, then, that Bleeding Heart Square begins to smell quite literally of blood, particularly for Lydia Langton and down-on-his-luck copy-editor Rory Wentwood, who lives upstairs and is currently engaged to be married to Philippa’s niece, Miss Fenella Kensley. Fenella is rather anxious to find out what happened to her aunt. She’s absolutely positive that her aunt couldn’t have possibly jumped ship and gone to the States to live. She was a terribly naïve, rather conservative woman who only saw and heard what she wanted to.

The London of Bleeding Heart Square is filled with a gray light, “a dispirited kind that is worse than darkness.” From the dank tea shops and streets of Spittlefield where the rank smell of raw meat constantly hangs in the smoky air, this atmospheric mystery novel perpetually seethes with the separated and the brokenhearted, the cruel and the rapacious.

Although the background material on the rise of the British fascist movement slows the plot down a bit, especially in the final third, the novel is mostly gripped by a dark sense of urgency. Like falling dominoes, Lydia and Rory begin to unravel the complicated layers of connections to Philippa’s past. The devil seems to be alive and well, dividing his time between the remote Mortham Farm and the strange and furtive goings-on at Bleeding Heart Square. A compelling portrait gradually develops of Philippa, terrified of growing old and dying in thrall to an evil-hearted man, and Lydia, whose fate has apparently been in the hands of two men, her husband and her father, one a brash young bully and the other an old, impetuous, broken-down drunk.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2009

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