Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars: lyrical title and intense prose

What is this about?: It is on the surface, about the search for Iolanthe Green, an actress who disappears during her play’s run in London. Anna, who is her costumer and friend, goes on a search for her.

What else is this about?: It’s about characters who are “other”: whether they are a woman, Black, Irish or Muslim. How do they fit into London in 1965. What do they do to do so?

Stars: 3.5/5

Blurb: London, November 1965. Millions of Londoners are living and working on the fringes of the fashionable West End. Tales of the Moors murders fill the papers. Beyond the glamour of the all-white Carnaby Street scene lie other worlds of Caribbean music, Turkish coffee houses, Soho prostitution and stolen identities.  

One Saturday evening, American star Iolanthe Green finishes a performance, walks out onto the Charing Cross Road and disappears. At first everybody cares where she went … and then nobody does.

A diverse group of émigré Londoners—an Irish policeman, a Turkish coffee house owner and a Jamaican accountant—are drawn together to search for a woman who’s quickly being forgotten. They are led by Iolanthe’s dresser, Anna Treadway—a woman who knows quite a bit about reinvention—and together they will travel into a world of underground music clubs, back street abortionists, seaside ghost towns and police brutality.
 
Passionate, witty and surprising, Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars is a mystery, a romance and a tale of immigration: the story of how some people are forced to start their lives again and again and again….

Despite the lyrical title and the promise of a mystery, Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars is hardly a conventional read.

Sure, there’s a mystery, but London and the characters that inhabit it and cross Anna’s path as she searches for Iolanthe are the heart of this story. This is a story about what people do to fit in instead of embracing who they are and standing out – but that sentiment is from someone who can look back at a time they’ve never lived in… and even as I write that, it occurs to me: isn’t that what people are still trying to do today?

Secrets

Everyone has their secrets, some more shocking than others. But, Emmerson’s writing is restrained and focused so that their secrets are not sensationalised – instead, they appear within the narrative making you go “oh” and forcing you to readjust your thinking about the characters. I think I like that. But I also think I would have liked to have known Anna and some other characters more. Perhaps, this could have done with a smaller cast of characters, with more depth to each than they currently have.

I think this is more a literary story than a mystery, with slower pacing that doesn’t lend itself to the tension you’d expect to find in a mystery. Or to be more accurate, that I want tend to lean towards in my reading. But, it is a book that I found myself contemplative about. There’s a rich cast of characters here, and Emmerson builds a complicated, diverse world around them.

7 Comments

  • This sounds like a very interesting mix of different genre conventions! I’ve quite enjoyed literary mysteries in the past (Claire De Witt and the City of the Dead is a personal fave), so I’m definitely interested in that aspect of this one. Plus from what you described, it seems like Emmerson is a very talented writer!

    • Verushka says:

      Literary mysteries are sort of new to me, so it took me a few chapters to get into this, but I’m glad I did. I am curious as to what you thought of Claire De Witt, because I recently found that title and am thinking of getting to it soon.? Though that said, if it’s a personal fave, it’s got to be good!

  • That is a unique title, but honestly it makes me kind of sad to think about how so many people try to fit in rather than being who they are :-/ Although I imagine that was definitely harder to do in the past, and of course it’s harder for people who are up against prejudice or other similar struggles. But the way their secrets were written sounds really well done! It’s a good thing, I think, when a book can make you contemplative.

    • Verushka says:

      It is sad to think about — what people went through and are still going through. You’d think e’d have learned and grown past this, but honestly, we haven’t.

  • Thanks for sharing! this does sound like a unique read – I’m definitely curious. 🙂

  • I really love the cover!! The cover actually reminds me of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels! The story sounds intriguing too and I’ve never really read much of a literary mystery before..I like my mysteries with excitement and tension. i might give this a go to see how I like the genre 🙂 Thanks for the great review!

  • Maria Behar says:

    OUTSTANDING review, Verushka!

    I’ve never heard of this book, but the fact that it’s not your standard mystery has me really intrigued. It sounds like it’s a rather quirky novel, and I definitely like that! When I hear that a particular novel has an unusual plot, and/or cast of characters, I’m very interested right away!! So I’ll be adding this book to my Goodreads shelves ASAP!! Thanks for featuring it!! <3 🙂

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