This book was chosen by vote at February’s meeting. I didn’t vote for it! Judging it by its cover I had decided it wasn’t my ‘thing’. Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s actually an entertaining story of the start of the Second World War, the fate of evacuees and the opportunities the war offered to ‘make a quick buck’.
The story opens with a boy of ten, Noel, coping with his godmother’s dementia as he tries to deal with the early demands of the war, blackout blinds and ration books, whilst his school is closed and his classmates evacuated. Eventually, his godmother’s dementia overwhelms her as the conditions of war remind her of her imprisonment as a suffragette and he is ultimately forced into evacuation in St. Albans. This is where he encounters the ‘crooks’ in the crooked heart. The family who take him in are engaged in small time crime, profiting from the war. The son, Donald, a man of nineteen has a heart murmur and has failed his medical. He now takes medical examinations on behalf of men wanting to escape conscription. His mother shakes collecting tins for fake charities and pockets the profits. They are nor portrayed as bad people, just people eking out a subsistence living on the fringes of crime.
Noel arrives in this family, intelligent and insightful but also a little out of place. He sees the flaws in the plans of his foster mother and begins to help her maximise her profit through statistically examining charity returns in the local papers. As the story is told, the reasons why the family dabble in small crimes become clear and Noel begins to find some affection in his adoptive family.
The story really gets going as things unravel in the two scams and Noel finds himself adrift in a very different London to the one he knows, huddled in air raid shelters, he experiences kindness, the genuine terror of an air raid and eventually finds a path to a new life.
This isn’t great literature but it is a good read which tells an enjoyable story. Definitely a recommended ‘light’ read, great for a journey or a holiday, not a keeper but one I will pass on to another friend to pass a holiday week.