Writers take risks every time they put pen to paper – or well, fingers to keyboard. Balancing reader expectations with the desire to grow as an artist can be tricky. Lori Rader-Day has never been an author who was content with the status quo – each of her books is unique in style, execution, and intention. In what is easily her most seismic shift yet, her latest novel, Death at Greenway, is a historical novel that blends elements of crime, suspense, and women’s fiction.
There is no denying that Lori Rader-Day has always been an author who places the highest value on character. This remains true with Death at Greenway. Rather than rush the start of the novel, Rader-Day spends the time necessary to acquaint the reader with Bridget “Bridey” Kelly, a character they are about to spend 400+ pages with. This is most important because Bridey’s life is about to experience a sojourn of life-changing proportions and readers are lucky enough to have a front row seat to watch it unfold.
Hired as one of two nurses tasked with the caretaking of ten young children who have been evacuated for safety reasons in the midst of World War II, Bridey and her colleague Gigi relocate with the children to Greenway – the isolated summer residence of Agatha Christie. In the tradition of a bildungsroman, much of the narrative is devoted to how that experience changes Bridey and the evolution of her friendship with Gigi.
While the discovery of a body swept ashore on the Greenway estate – seemingly a victim of foul play – and the subsequent search for answers places this novel firmly in the crime fiction category, the focus here is more on individual secrets and their interconnectedness with the homefront realities during wartime. Death at Greenway is very much a look at the collateral damage of war; a portrait of people doing the right thing in difficult times, while never shying away from the complexities of what the “right thing” is.
Lori Rader-Day unspools her narrative with a cacophony of voices. There is never a question that Bridey is our focal character, but by allowing readers to glimpse events through multiple points-of-view, Rader-Day adds depth and verisimilitude to the proceedings. It is worth mentioning here – in the effort to assuage expectations – that Agatha Christie herself only briefly appears during the novel. In many ways this deep-dive character study owes more to another of the Golden Age authors – Margery Allingham – then to Christie’s more puzzle-like oeuvre.
The success of historical fiction depends as much on what is not included as it does on what actually appears on the written page. If the reader is burdened with too many facts and details, the experience becomes too much like a textbook; and yet in order for the period to come alive for the reader there must be enough specifics and ambiance for the solid grounding of the narrative. This is an elusive demarcation that varies widely, but in Death at Greenway, Lori Rader-Day walks this tightrope with aplomb.
There is no telling where Lori Rader-Day’s writerly journey will take her next, but readers can rest easy knowing she will approach whatever it is with the same level of commitment and clear talent which she bestowed on this, her first venture into historical territory. Expect to see Death at Greenway on quite a few award shortlists in the coming months.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.