Book Review: The Long, Long Afternoon – Inga Vesper

The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

About The Book

Yesterday, I kissed my husband for the last time . . .

It’s the summer of 1959, and the well-trimmed lawns of Sunnylakes, California, wilt under the sun. At some point during the long, long afternoon, Joyce Haney, wife, mother, vanishes from her home, leaving behind two terrified children and a bloodstain on the kitchen floor.

While the Haney’s neighbours get busy organising search parties, it is Ruby Wright, the family’s ‘help’, who may hold the key to this unsettling mystery. Ruby knows more about the secrets behind Sunnylakes’ starched curtains than anyone, and it isn’t long before the detective in charge of the case wants her help. But what might it cost her to get involved? In these long hot summer afternoons, simmering with lies, mistrust and prejudice, it could only take one spark for this whole ‘perfect’ world to set alight . . .

My Review

“Yesterday I kissed my husband for the last time”

And so begins The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper, a book set on the west coast of America in the late 1950s which explores race, social class and the veneer of perfection. Joyce Haney is a housewife who lives in a perfect house, on a perfect street, with two perfect daughters and a perfect husband. She has a maid, Ruby who comes to clean her house and it is she who finds Joyce’s eldest daughter on the drive, the baby crying upstairs and a pool of blood in the kitchen with Joyce nowhere to be seen.

Ruby is immediately pinned as being the prime suspect being the maid, black and from a seemingly dodgy part of LA. Detective Mick Blanke isn’t so sure though – there is something else going here, he just isn’t sure what. Could it be something to do with the Women’s Improvement Committee which Joyce was part of? Or is something more sinister afoot?

Sunnylake, Santa Monica is an affluent white neighbourhood filled with Stepford Wives. The depiction of 1950s America is perfectly executed with the wives at home, children smartly dressed and men working hard to provide the latest mod cons and the nicest cars. Then there is the racism aimed at Ruby which is both uncomfortable and upsetting to read. She is deemed as being ‘less than’ due to her skin colour, she has to think twice about diners she can go to and is aware of the eyes on her from behind net curtains as she walks down the street of a white neighbourhood in her maid uniform.

Simmering away in the background is the extreme Californian heat which beats down upon Detective Mick Blanke who has recently moved from Baltimore. The weather is a constant companion which becomes almost oppressive and helps to build the tension within the narrative. Told from the viewpoints of Ruby, Mick and Joyce herself the story builds slowly, gradually creating a picture of deception and hidden truths behind the perfectly constructed life. The characterisation is great, with Ruby in particular being well-written – she is likeable, warm-hearted and tenacious and wants better for herself. She is underestimated by everybody and written off, especially by the women of Sunnylake, all except Joyce who took the time to get to know Ruby and build a friendship with her.

But what has happened to Joyce? Well, you’ll have to read the book to fine out, but this far more than a novel about a missing woman. It is an insightful piece of historical fiction which is a social commentary on the role of women and race in 1950s America. I really enjoyed it and was transported to the searing heat of Santa Monica and the twitching curtains of Sunnylake, where husbands come home from work expecting a meal on the table and a perfectly coiffured wife. There is a dark element which runs through the narrative which is both unnerving and compelling and is an eye opening read. Recommended.

Where You Can Buy It

My thanks to Bonnier Books for providing me with a copy of the book via Netgalley.

The Long, Long Afternoon was published on the 4th February in both hardcover and ebook.

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