Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bleeding Heart Square

I've never belonged to a book group before, but when I saw this description of the March meeting of the American Women's Club daytime book group, I signed myself up and went straight to the library to check out the book.
 Join us for lunch at the Bleeding Heart Tavern. 
Are you ready for a good ol’ murder mystery? Our book selection for March is Bleeding Heart Square, written by one of the UK’s finest crime writers, Andrew Taylor.
The Omnivore writes, ‘If Philippa Penhow hadn’t gone to Bleeding Heart Square on that January day, you and perhaps everyone else might have lived happily ever after...’ It’s 1934, and the decaying London cul-de-sac of Bleeding Heart Square is an unlikely place of refuge for aristocratic Lydia Langstone. But as she flees her abusive marriage there is only one person she can turn to – the genteelly derelict Captain Ingleby-Lewis, currently lodging at no 7. However, unknown to Lydia, a dark mystery haunts 7 Bleeding Heart Square. What happened to Miss Penhow, the middle-aged spinster who owns the house and who vanished four years earlier? Why is a seedy plain-clothes policeman obsessively watching the square? What is making struggling journalist Rory Wentwood so desperate to contact Miss Penhow? And why are parcels of rotting hearts being sent to Joseph Serridge, the last person to see Miss Penhow alive…?  Legend has it the Devil once danced in Bleeding Heart Square – but is there now a new and sinister presence lurking in its shadows?
Bleeding Heart Square
I love a good murder mystery.  My parents used to joke that they considered naming me Agatha Christie -- as in, Agatha Christie Mistry, for those of you who don't know my last name.  So the idea of reading one that was set here in London and then meeting for lunch at that very location to discuss the book sounded fantastic.  I enjoyed the book, although I found the ending a bit TOO surprising.  Unlike Agatha Christie, the author only gives very subtle clues as to whodunnit, and virtually none at all as to why, where, when, or how.  I had to go back and read parts of the book over again to really pick up on them.

Most of the book takes place in the City of London in 1934, where you meet the odd assortment of lodgers at #7 Bleeding Heart Square.  The square is actually more of a small cul-de-sac associated with an old church, the remains of which lie just beyond it and are accessible through a guarded, locked gate.  At the entrance to the square is a pub painted blood red.

Legend has it that Bleeding Heart Square got its name from a grisly murder at a party in one of the large houses nearby.  The lady of the house danced with a handsome stranger and got so carried away that she was literally carried away -- they danced down the stairs and out onto the street.  The next day, her dismembered body was found in the square  -- with blood still pumping from her exposed heart.  The stranger was never seen again, and was believed to be the Devil himself.

I arrived at the Bleeding Heart Tavern a little early for our 1 pm lunch reservation on Wednesday, so I took a few photos.  The tavern is indeed at the entrance to the square and is a deep red color.
The Bleeding Heart Tavern
It's not actually a square
A couple of the other women showed up, so we took a quick peek into the square while we waited for the rest of the group.  It is definitely more like an alley or a dead-end street than a square, but you have to give the author some poetic license.
One end of the "square"
We found the locked gate at one end of the yard, which is now mostly taken up by various incarnations of the Bleeding Heart restaurant/tavern/bistro.
The gate to the chapel
Number 7 is the Bleeding Heart Bistro, and looks too modern to have been around in 1934, but we still had to take a picture and try to imagine it as a formerly grand manor that had been converted into a seedy rooming house.
#7, at the other end of the "square" - now a bistro
We had a nice lunch inside the tavern. Appropriately, there were 13 of us in total. Since this was my first book group meeting, I was told that they aren't normally this elaborate.  Usually they just meet in the AWC office, and the conversation often strays to celebrity sightings and Downton Abbey.  True to form, our club president mentioned that she sat across from Michael Palin on the Tube the day before.  Later, someone else commented that the book was set in a similar time period to Downton Abbey.  Check, and check!

After lunch we all went back into the square/yard.  As we walked towards the back gate, we saw a woman opening it, so we asked if we could go through.  After we had all gone through the gate, she slammed it shut behind us, locking us out.  It seemed awfully rude, but sort of added to the Dickensian atmosphere of the square as it was depicted in the book.  We walked about a block down Ely Place and found the chapel tucked in between two large houses.  We peeked inside St. Etheldreda's and discovered that it does have a large crypt that it rents out for events, just like in the book.  In fact, they were setting up for some kind of dinner event while we were there.  I didn't get any photos, but they have pictures of the lovely stained glass windows on their website.

I have to say, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience having a book come to life in such a tangible way.  Someone mentioned that for the May meeting, the author of that book will be joining us, so another trip to the library is definitely in order.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like SO much fun! I'd love to attend something like this. Thanks for sharing.


To prevent spam and other inappropriate messages, all comments are moderated before being posted.