Annie Sweet is immediately drawn to 43 Stanley Road and quickly moves in with her family. The house is everything she wanted, but there are odd things about it – their dog barks at thin air, the floor in her office slopes oddly. As her marriage begins to disintegrate, Annie seeks answers to her home’s past. She discovers through the census that a young chorus girl named Lily Painter used to lodge there, and Annie is desperate to discover more about her.
Intertwined with Annie’s story in the present, there are other voices from the past. Inspector William George writes a journal about his cases, one in particular about baby farming which is bothering him. (Baby farming being when unwed mothers with little other choice available to them would pay other women to take their babies off their hands, and then these women would sell them on to those who couldn’t have children. In some cases the babies died in suspicious circumstances.) George received a tip off about two women and is determined to get to the bottom of it. And then there’s Lily’s voice, the ghost of the title. Initially we get to see how she came to live with the Georges and start making a name for herself on the stage, but it isn’t too long before poor Lily ties the threads of the story together.
I wish this book had a different title. It is such an obvious one for a book like this. And to be honest it doesn’t fit the tone of the book at all. Neither does the jacket image. It looks like it should be very creepy, an old fashioned, scary ghost story. And it isn’t that at all, although there are times when the author tries to shoe horn that in. And that’s the problem with this book in a nutshell: it is trying to be far too many things at once, and failing on all counts. It is not a ghost story, nor is it historical fiction, or a relationship drama. It’s all those things stuck together to make a decent book that could have been even better, had it been more focused. Parts of the book are ‘inspired’ by a true story of baby farmers, and the author uses these beginnings to think about a larger ‘what if?’ These parts work really well. I was hooked on the sections that focused on the inspector, and Lily’s earlier days and how she gets involved with the baby farmers. These sections are very well written, and if the book had only been about the past I think it could have been really excellent.
The parts that don’t work all that well are the present day ones, and they felt unnecessary. It seemed like the author wanted to frame the story in this way and so made it happen, even if it didn’t do the book any good, and meant that the ending was far too silly and coincidental for it to have the emotional impact it should have. Annie, I’m afraid to say, is a very dull character, and so spending time with her while she unravels what we already know is not all that interesting. And when she’s not looking into the past she’s despairing over her marriage or taking her daughter to endless auditions, (the daughter wants to be an actress, sort of, but it’s a lame attempt at adding drama. No pun intended there).
One thing I did enjoy was the setting, which is Holloway. I live in North London so it was nice to see places I am familiar with popping up in a book. And while I can’t give this a rave review, it was entertaining for the most part. I just think it could have been a lot better.