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Book Author: Allison Montclair

THE UNKEPT WOMAN by Allison Montclair

For Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge, partners in The Right Sort Marriage Bureau in London, life is turning out to be uncomfortably close to William Faulkner’s quotation, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.” 

Interestingly, Iris’ and Gwen’s pasts are completely different.  During the Second World War, which ended just a year before the novel begins, Iris was a member of the British Secret Service.  No longer a member of MI6, she is still bound by the agency’s confidentiality rules; there are certain things she cannot discuss, even with Gwen.

Gwen, on the other hand, has led a protected life, or at least she had led such a life until her husband, a naval officer, was killed in the war.  Heartbroken by his death, she became mentally unstable and was institutionalized at her in-laws’ insistence.  That, in turn, gave them control of her young son Robbie and her finances, which has led to her living, most unhappily, with them.

Although Iris is now a civilian, she hasn’t lost any of her investigative talents or her intuition, and she’s aware that a woman is following her.  Giving her the slip, Iris arrives at her flat only to find, much to her dismay, that her former lover is there.

A brief argument between Iris and Andrew ends in Iris leaving the flat to spend a few days with Gwen and her aristocratic family.  Then a strange incident occurs–a woman is found murdered in her flat, and not surprisingly the police at first believe it’s Iris.

Neither Iris nor Gwen is able to leave the past behind.  In Iris’ case it’s because Andrew has re-entered her life and brought with him the mysterious woman who was following her.  In Gwen’s case, she’s getting ready for an appearance in the Court of Lunacy (now known as the Court of Protection) to petition the Master of Lunacy for her parental rights and control over her finances.

Gwen and Iris are definitely sisters under the skin; despite superficial differences they have similar thoughts and feelings.  They are physically different and come from very different backgrounds, yet their outlook on life and the things they believe in explain their close relationship.

In addition to Gwen and Iris, there’s a cast of characters that weave in and out of the protagonists’ lives, some supportive, some not.  On the difficult side for Gwen are her formidable in-laws, Lord and Lady Bainbridge; for Iris, it’s the return of Andrew and all the unwanted baggage he brings with him.  Balancing that for Gwen is her son Ronnie, for whom she’s attempting to regain control of her life; for Iris there’s her somewhat tenuous relationship with Archie, her underworld protector.

The Unkept Woman is the fourth novel in the Iris Sparks/Gwen Bainbridge series.  As the books progress, readers can see the growth of both women due to two factors–their own strengths and personalities and the changing times and mores following World War II.

Allison Montclair is the pen name of the prolific author of historical mysteries and works of fantasy, horror, theater, and science fiction.  You can follow her at various sites on the internet.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

A ROGUE’S COMPANY by Allison Montclair: Book Review

The joint owners of the Right Sort Marriage Bureau are as different, as the British expression goes, as chalk and cheese.

Iris Sparks, dark and petite, is single, worked for an unnamed government agency during the Second World War, had several love affairs, and is currently single but sexually involved with a mid-level gangster.

Gwendolyn Bainbridge, tall and blonde, is the widow of an army officer and mother of six-year-old Ronnie, who is the heir to the Bainbridge family fortune.  Heartbroken by the death of her young husband, Gwen spent a year in a sanatorium, held there against her will due to the influence of her father-in-law Lord Bainbridge, who has been given custody of her young son.

Lord Bainbridge’s return from Africa has put the entire household in a turmoil as he makes everyone from the lowliest housemaid to his wife unhappy and on edge.  And something is taking him out of the house and to his club every night, even on his first night home after six months away, something he refuses to explain.

Although it was Gwen’s late husband’s express wish that their son not be sent to St. Frideswide’s, the boarding school all the male Bainbridges attended, Lord Bainbridge is insistent that the boy be sent there.  Unfortunately for both Gwen and Ronnie, the boy’s grandfather has complete control over Ronnie’s care and eduction until Gwen’s psychiatrist certifies that she is completely recovered from the breakdown over her husband’s death, something the doctor is not willing to do, at least not yet.

There is a lot going on in the lives of Gwen and Iris, both in their private lives and their professional lives.  While Gwen is trying to deal with her antagonistic father-in-law, Iris is trying to come to terms with her past career in espionage and the rather unsavory affairs she had at that time.

Both women are attempting to make their business venture a success.   Working together at their nascent match-making bureau, the women meet a new client, Mr. Daile.  He has arrived in England after serving in the Royal British Navy during the war, and he tells Iris and Gwen he wishes to meet a good Christian woman with proper values who is willing to live in a rural community in England or elsewhere.  Perhaps even in Nyasaland, his home country, for Mr. Daile is the agency’s first African client, as well as its first non-white one.

Gwen is bothered by her feeling that Mr. Daile seems to be everywhere she is.  Once could be a coincidence, she thinks, but the second or third time she is seriously unnerved by the man and his motorcycle.  When she confides her feelings to her partner, Iris secretly contacts her boyfriend to see what he can find out about their new client.

Although the book takes place more than seventy years ago, there is a timelessness about Iris and Gwen.  Both are living through a period of unprecedented change that has come about after World War II.  It includes new opportunities for women but still encumbers them with the stereotypes they hoped had been left behind.

Allison Montclair is the pseudonym of an author who has written fantasy, horror, and science fiction.  You can read more about her at various sites on the web.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.