Today I’m so delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Plenty Under the Counter by Kathleen Hewitt. This novel is one of four war time classics being brought to new readers by the Imperial War Museum.
London, 1942, Flight-Lieutenant David Heron, home on a convalescent leave, awakes to the news that a murder victim has been discovered in the garden of his boarding house. With a week until his service resumes, David sets out to solve the murder. Drawn into a world of mystery and double-dealing, he soon realises that there is more than meets the eye, and that wartime London is a place where opportunism and the black market are able to thrive. Can he solve the mystery before his return to the skies?
Inspired by Kathleen Hewitt’s own experience of wartime London, this new edition of a 1943 classic includes a contextual introduction from IWM which sheds light on the fascinating true events that so influenced its author.
I do love a murder mystery and so was delighted when I discovered one of the four titles released in this project was one. Often war on the frontline is covered in stories but this looks at the war from the Homefront. Whilst men were away fighting life carried on whilst we hear plenty about the wartime spirit there were also plenty that took advantage of this difficult time. Whilst many sheltered from the bombings others used the blackouts and misfortune of others to their own end. This story shows that darker side, the side of a society pushed to their limits with the fear of the nightly raids, rationing and separation from their loved ones, and the criminals who take advantage of them.
Right from the get go the story drags you in with the discovery of a body. David Heron is our protagonist and he becomes determined to help solve the crime. The thing I liked most about this novel is that it perfectly sets the scene for battle worn London. This wonderful series written by those who lived and breathed it captures the feeling and atmosphere of the time. Kathleen Hewitt is a talented writer and I’m so delighted to have been able to read her work thanks to the IWM. I read with interest the introduction written by Alan Jeffreys and I find her a fascinating woman. I would definitely love to know more about her, not just her work but life in London. We do get a glimpse of this in her writing. Her plot is intriguing and her characters engaging. Humour is splattered throughout and yet there is the undertone of the hardship that the war brought so many of the people simply trying to survive it. We now know that the war eventually ended but at this time they had no idea how it would turn out. This is a gripping murder mystery that perfectly captures a slice of British history and brings the realities of war on the Homefront to life.
Thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour and to the IWM for my review copy. I have already brought a copy all four of these titles for our school library and I look forward to sharing them with students and staff.
About the author
Kathleen Hewitt (1893-1980) was a British author who wrote more than twenty novels in her lifetime, mainly in the mystery and thriller genre. During the Second World War she lived in Marylebone, and belonged to the The Olde Ham Bone, a bohemian club in Soho, as well as frequenting the Ivy, the Cafe Royal and the Pen Club. Hewitt enjoyed friendships with many literary and artistic figures of the day including Olga Lehman and the poet Roy Campbell.
Here is a little more about the project:
In September 2019, to mark the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, IWM have launched a wonderful new series with four novels from their archives all set during the Second World War – Imperial War Museums Wartime Classics.
Originally published to considerable acclaim, these titles were written either during or just after the Second World War and are currently out of print. Each novel is written directly from the author’s own experience and takes the reader right into the heart of the conflict. They all capture the awful absurdity of war and the trauma and chaos of battle as well as some of the fierce loyalties and black humour that can emerge in extraordinary circumstances.
Living through a time of great upheaval, as we are today, each wartime story brings the reality of war alive in a vivid and profoundly moving way and is a timely reminder of what the previous generations experienced.
The remarkable IWM Library has an outstanding literary collection and was an integral part of Imperial War Museums from its very beginnings. Alan Jeffreys, (Senior Curator, Second World War, Imperial War Museums) searched the library collection to come up with these four launch titles, all of which deserve a new and wider audience. He has written an introduction to each novel that sets them in context and gives the wider historical background and says, ‘Researching the Wartime Classics has been one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on in my years at IWM. It’s been very exciting rediscovering these fantastic novels and helping to bring them to the wider readership they so deserve’.
Each story speaks strongly to IWM’s remit to tell the stories of those who experienced conflict first hand. They cover diverse fronts and topics – preparations for D-Day and the advance into Normandy; the war in Malaya; London during the Blitz and SOE operations in occupied Europe and each author – three men and a woman – all have fascinating back stories.
These are Second World War novels about the truth of war written by those who were actually there.