Garden of Lamentations
Necessary as Blood
With Necessary as Blood, Laura Maestro has captured the color and texture of London’s East End, in settings both real and imagined, with consummate skill.
Beneath the title, three-year-old Charlotte Malik naps with her plush elephant, Bob, under the loft windows in her mother Sandra’s studio. Sandra, a textile artist, keeps colored pencils on her worktable in a mug commemorating the Duke of Edinburgh—only the mug’s manufacturer misspelled “Duke.” Although not old enough to read, Charlotte loves the joke and calls the pencils her “duck pencils.”
Sandra, Charlotte, and Sandra’s husband, Pakistani lawyer Naz Malik, live in a Georgian house in Fournier Street that Sandra and Naz restored themselves. The houses in Fournier Street were built by refugee French Protestant silk weavers, the Huguenots, in the early 18th century, and although for many years they were used as slum tenements, most have now been returned to something near their former elegance.
Around the corner from Fournier Street, just off Brick Lane in Ely Yard (part of the old Truman Brewery), is the Rootmaster, an old double-decker Routemaster bus that has been turned into a vegetarian restaurant. Charlotte may not understand the pun, but she loves to climb the stairs to the tables on the top deck.
The area between Commercial Street and Brick Lane is the heart of this part of the East End. Old Spitalfields Market, once one of London’s bustling produce markets, is now a covered arcade filled with shops and restaurants, although vendors still set up stalls on Friday and Saturday.
Fournier Street is anchored at the Spitalfields end by Christ Church Spitalfields, an Anglican church built between 1714 and 1729 to a design by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The church faces the City ofLondon, and was part of an initiative to build fifty new Anglican churches enacted by Parliament in 1711. The government hoped to counteract the influence of French Protestants, but only twelve of the planned fifty churches were completed. Six of the twelve were designed by Hawksmoor.
At the Brick Lane end of Fournier Street is the Jamme Mosjid Mosque. Much of this part of Brick Lane is strongly Bangladeshi, and the streets are sign-posted in both English and Bengali. The Jamme Mosjid was built as a French Protestant Church in 1763. In 1819 it became a Methodist chapel, and in 1898 a synagogue. In 1976 it became a mosque, thus reflecting once again the changing character of the neighborhood and its people.
Nowhere in the East End are you far from the City of London or the river Thames, and from many vantage points you can see the new glass tower blocks of Bishopsgate, which seem to be marching inexorably eastwards. But the twisty streets hide 30 St. Mary Axe, known as “the Gherkin,” until you are almost upon it. The Gherkin, completed in 2003, is now as familiar a part of the London riverscape and skyline as St. Paul’s Cathedral. London, as always, juxtaposes the old and the new.
Where Memories Lie
Where Memories Lie presented a challenge for illustrator Laura Maestro, as the novel’s action is spread over a large area of London, including Notting Hill, Chelsea, Soho, and the City of London, and parts of the story take place in the late 1940s and early 1950s as well as the present day. Fortunately, much of London is enduring, so that landmarks like the Albert Bridge haven’t changed. Gavin Hoxley (the detective who worked on the murder case in 1952) lived in a house that still stands in Tedworth Square, Chelsea, just across from a house once occupied by Mark Twain. It’s hard to imagine that the lovely garden in the square’s center was used as a vegetable allotment during the war.
The oddly triangular Lucan Place Police Station, where Gavin works and Gemma later searches through his old case reports, is one of the few police stations in London still in its original building. Notting Hill Police Station is another.
While Gemma’s and Duncan’s house, and Erika Rosenthal’s nearby, are fictional, Laura has captured the wedding-cake architecture of these Victorian streets in Notting Hill.
Like down-at-heel actor Harry Pevensey, you can have a drink or a meal at The French House with its cheerful French flags on Dean Street in Soho, but you won’t be able to use your mobile phone!
Or you can wander down Portobello Road on a Saturday morning. Browse the antique stalls and arcades, pick up a chocolate croissant from Mr. Christian’s Deli on Elgin Crescent, check out Books for Cooks (possibly the best cookery bookshop in the world), and the Travel Bookshop, which was the model for Hugh Grant’s Notting Hill bookshop in Richard Curtis’s film, Notting Hill. Alas, the blue door of Hugh Grant’s flat has since been painted black. Shop for flowers and produce from the stalls on the lower end of Portobello Road, like the woman in Laura’s charming illustration. And then, on a very lucky day, you might have a Pimm’s at The Duke of Wellington and catch the fabulous jazz fusion guitarists who sometimes busk in front of the pub.
Laura somehow manages to portray the animals in the novels exactly the way I see them, as she’s done with Gemma’s blue roan cocker spaniel, Geordie, and his feline buddy, Sid. But my favorite is the English mastiff, Mo, who takes pride of place in the map’s center. Mo’s owner, Susan Braunstein, won the opportunity in a Humane Society raffle to have her rescued mastiff portrayed as a character in the book, and I hope both Laura and I have done Mo justice.
Water Like a Stone
Nantwich is an ancient market town, situated in the fertile reaches of the Cheshire Plain. Romans mined salt here, hence the name—wych means salt. In Tudor times it was the last English garrison on a major route into Wales. When the town burned to the ground in the late 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I contributed monies for its rebuilding as a protection against Spanish invaders, so that Nantwich has one of the most purely Elizabethan black-and-white timbered town squares in England.
A few streets from the house where Duncan’s sister Juliet lives, the great red-brick edifice of St. Mary’s Church, known as the cathedral of South Cheshire, dominates the town center. Across the square, light sparks from the leaded windows of the old Crown Hotel as it leans precariously over the High Street.
Just to the west of the town runs the Shropshire Union Canal. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the canal was the major trade route between the Potteries to the south and the industrial cities to the north—Liverpool, Manchester, and Leeds. Now the working narrow boats are gone, but brightly-colored pleasure boats, both new and old, vie the reed-lined waterway, watched by the resident swans.
Above Nantwich, the Llangollen Canal meanders south-west into Wales, and at Barbridge the Shropshire Union meets the Middlewich Canal which carries boat traffic to Manchester and points north-east. Here the Barbridge Inn provides food, drink, fires, and good company, and if one is lucky enough, New Orleans jazz played by the Salt City Jazzmen.
The author’s photo of the bridge at Stoke, the scene of the fictional dairy barn, graces the cover of Water Like a Stone.
In a Dark House
In a Dark House takes place in the East London neighborhood known as Southwark, Bankside and South Bank, the environs of Charles Dickens’ childhood. Much of the neglected Victorian wharf and warehouses are transitioning to luxury flats and retail space, and are major destinations for the tourists and the trendy.
The Southwark Station firefighters wear the London Fire Brigade badge proudly, honoring the men of the Victorian era who bravely fought the 1861 Tooley Street fire that burned for two days, and the blitz of World War II. The docks were easily identifiable from the air and were attacked more than any other civilian target. Nearly 1,000 high explosive bombs and thousands of incendiaries were dropped...At the same time large areas of residential Dockland were devastated. During the whole of the blitz, 30,000 people were killed. Slightly more than half of these casualties were in London and a high proportion of these were in Dockland.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and Exhibition is situated beside the Bankside Power Station that has metamorphosed into the Tate Modern.
Sub Officer Jake Martinelli, from the Southwark Fire Brigade Station, works with the black-and-tan German shepherd dog, Scully, an accelerant detection dog with dark comma-shaped patches above her eyes that give her a quizzical expression. This illustration shows Scully with the paw protectors worn to prevent burns while investigating extinguished fires.
At the center of Guy’s Hospital’s quadrangle, a stone’s throw from the George Inn, Gemma finds a statue of Sir Thomas Guy.
The windows of St. George The Martyr Church illustrates the beauty and craftsmanship of the stain-glass windows prevalent in churches throughout the Southwark area. On Winnie’s advice, Gemma detours to find the chapel at Guy’s Hospital, just to take in the windows. She is delighted by the chapel, feeling as if she has stepped inside a Faberge Easter egg.
Crossbones Graveyard is a medieval cemetery, an unconsecrated burial ground for prostitutes and others who couldn’t afford proper burial. When London Transport began work on the Jubilee Line extension, they started digging up bodies. Work was stopped and the place has been in limbo ever since.
The George Inn, replete with bar, is the last of the ancient galleried inns of Southwark.
The four-story Southwark Street warehouse, the scene of the first fire of In A Dark House, was a grey-brown brick belied by the graceful arches of large windows. The square edges of its corners were softened by gentle curves, it dark façade lightened by touches of cream brick round windows and roof. Beautiful in its form and symmetry, it is a striking example of the best of Victorian architecture. A photo of the warehouse taken by the author was beautifully adapted by the publisher for the cover of the William Morrow hardcover edition (U. S.).
Helping Hands, women’s/family- violence shelter, houses 10 client families at full capacity. While it is more ornate than its Southwark Street warehouse neighbor, the building shows signs of neglect and decay.
The cover art on the William Morrow hardcover edition is taken from the author's photo of an old warehouse in Southwark, London.