This Lovely City by Louise Hare
The story opens in 1950, introducing young Lawrie Matthews, a postman by day and a clarinet player in a swing band by night. Lawrie is one of the so-called Windrush Generation, originally from Jamaica but now living in London. Britain’s acute labour shortage after WWII led to their seeking Commonwealth subjects, many from Jamaica, to migrate to the UK in 1948. Lawrie was one of the first to answer the call, although throughout this novel he has moments when he regrets ever landing on British soil. “Almost five years now since VE Day, almost two years since Lawrie had landed at Tilbury, and the city was still too poor to clean itself up. Austerity they called it, as if giving it a name made it more acceptable to those struggling to make ends meet.”
Lawrie’s girlfriend Evie Coleridge is mixed race and lives with her mother Agnes next door to Lawrie’s boarding house in Brixton. Evie is the only child of a lone parent and although Agnes is white, Evie knows what it is to feel the slap of prejudice, against both black people and single mothers. But she has been educated, has completed secretarial college and works as a typist in a large London office. Evie and Lawrie have plans to marry and settle down someday.
Lawrie is wrongly accused of murdering a baby he finds dead on the banks of Eagle Pond in Clapham Common. The baby is black. And the scenes in the police station following his arrest leave the reader in no doubt about the bigotry suffered by those very people who answered Britain’s invitation to come live and work there. The case detective has this to say in the course of Lawrie’s first of many harrowing interrogations: “Between you and me, I don’t give two shits about some dead nigger baby. Too many of you around here already, but the law is the law.”
What follows is part crime thriller, part love story, part potted history of people haunted by their secrets, but it’s also a potted social history of the appalling racism encountered by the Windrush Generation right from the start. Hare’s depiction of a post-war grimy London, bombed-out and pea-souped, with everyone still living on ration books, is really impeccable. This is an accomplished debut, stylish and evocative, with enough plot twists to keep the reader guessing right to the end.