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The Londoners by Margaret Pemberton is the first novel in a trilogy of the same name. Pemberton has written four novels under the pseudonym of Rebecca Dean; having read all four in fairly quick succession, I was delighted to discover that she had written over thirty novels under her real name.
The Londoners opens in East London in the 1930s, when Kate and her friend Carrie are finishing school. Both live in Magnolia Square, near Blackheath, which has a mix of Cockney residents, like Carrie's family, and slightly more middle class residents, like Kate and her father. Kate's father is German, and had been a prisoner of war during World War One. He married an English woman, and has since been accepted as a member of the local community. But with war with Germany looming once more, Kate is shocked and upset to find their friends turning against her father, and eventually her.
This is a real mix of romance, war and family. The setting of war-torn London is used superbly; the action rarely leaves Magnolia Square, but as it is in the East End, where the bombing was worst, this provides a full-on war setting. There are several scenes in Morrison shelters, and Pemberton really manages to portray the fear and uncertainty that these small shelters must have brought out.
The community spirit of the square is strong, and is a typical example of the Blitz spirit. However Pemberton also shows the darker side of wartime London, in the local attitude to German-born Carl once war is on the horizon. He is no Nazi, and is sad to see his country at war again with the country he calls home, but this counts for nothing with the scared and confused residents of Magnolia Square. In addition to this, we are reminded that Britain in the 1940s was still predominantly white, with some racist attitudes coming to the fore when a black sailor turns up in the square. Although words are used which are completely unacceptable now, Pemberton uses this language with care and it never comes across as sensationalist, but simply as being part of the language of the time, no matter how much we may deplore it now.
The Londoners is very much character-driven, and the characters are diverse and generally well-written. Some of the minor characters are among the best, the colourful locals like Mavis, Carrie's sister, who informs the square of the end of the war by shouting "Bleedin' Hitler's dead!" out her front window.Yet the lead character of Kate has some issues. She is a strong-minded young woman, who always tries to do the right thing, but she makes some very questionable choices for the time. This is hard to explain without revealing too much, but suffice to say that for a well-brought up and reasonably conservative girl, she breaks the rules in spectacular fashion not once, but twice. In some ways her attitude to these events is almost too progressive for her character, and for the time.
This doesn't actually detract from enjoying the novel however, but it is a point which I was aware of by the second occurrence - and which was voiced by another character. Yet The Londoners is an exciting and enjoyable novel, which makes excellent use of its setting in wartime London, and I look forward to reading more of the trilogy, and of Margaret Pemberton's other novels.