Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Rough Cider in the Making: Peter Lovesey

The latest issue of Mystery Readers Journal (33:2) focuses on Murder in Wartime  Buy this back issue! Available in hardcopy or as a downloadable PDF.

I decided to post some of the articles here on Mystery Fanfare. This one is by Peter Lovesey. Peter is one of my favorite authors--and one of my favorite people! Peter Lovesey has been a crime writer since 1970. He was guest of honor at this year’s CrimeFest and will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 Bouchercon in Dallas. 

Peter Lovesey: 
Rough Cider in the Making

The book of mine closest to my own experience is Rough Cider, written over thirty years ago in 1986. It has remained in print and is often mentioned by readers as a personal favourite, a non-series ‘one-off’ written in the first person as if by a university lecturer, who is persuaded or compelled to recall traumatic events from 1943 in rural England during World War II. Much of it drew on my own memories of being made homeless and moved from suburban London to a farm in the West Country.

In 1944 my home was destroyed by a V-1 rocket, one of those pilotless planes that Hitler sent over from France. Miraculously, all my family survived while everyone in the other half of the semi-detached house was killed. My mother had gone shopping when the air-raid siren sounded. She had left two of her three sons in the house. I was at school nearby and our father was away in the army. Mother had told my brother John, who was 14, to make sure that if the warning came he took my younger brother, Andrew, who was 3, under the Morrison shelter—a cast-iron table that had been offered by the government to all houses within range of the rockets. The table held up under the weight of the rubble and the two boys were dug out alive.

Being homeless, we slept for a few nights on the vicar’s living-room floor until arrangements were made to send us to a temporary home out of London. So my mother and her three sons took a long train journey to Cornwall in the West Country and were found accommodation on an isolated farm. The farmer and his wife and grown-up son had no choice but to accept this family from miles away. We were ‘billeted’—to use the terminology of the time. With hindsight I can understand how our hosts must have felt to have a woman in a state of shock and three noisy kids foisted on them at harvest time, but for us it was difficult to understand why we were not more welcome. The farmhouse was dark inside and lit by oil-lamps, and had curtains across all the doors to keep draughts to a minimum. As an 8-year-old, I found it spooky. Good thing I wasn’t without my family, as many so-called evacuees had found themselves earlier in the war when they were sent to the country for their own safety.

We didn’t remain there long—perhaps as little as a month. My father, on compassionate leave, found us a temporary house back in London, and we returned, much relieved, to the bomb-infested suburbs. But the memory of that time is still vivid in my mind. When I came to write Rough Cider forty years later, it was easy to get back into the thought process of a child, watching events unfold without fully understanding them. I began the book with a sentence that plunges the reader straight into that world:

“When I was nine, I fell in love with a girl of twenty called Barbara, who killed herself.”

Of course, the writer’s imagination moves on from remembered things to events that didn’t happen in reality. There was no suicide on the farm, no murder and no cider that I can recall. But the novel is centered around a plot involving an American soldier posted to England, and as a boy I did get to meet GIs at the local American Army base. After our return to London, we Lovesey boys were invited to a party put on specially by the GIs for ‘bombed-out’ kids—and it was wonderful. I can still remember the silent films they projected onto a screen for us—Buster Keaton and Chaplin—and the magician, and the food! Food we didn’t know existed. I was one of the first British children to taste a Hershey Bar and chewing gum. No wonder I can understand how the boy Theo came to idolize the soldier called Duke.

So there it is. I mustn’t give away more of the plot. Rough Cider remains a personal favorite for reasons you will now understand.


LJ Roberts said...

I am a huge Peter Lovesey fan, especially his Peter Diamond series. In December, I shall be reviewing "Beau Death," the 17th book in that series.

Raven Maven said...

I lived in England in the early 1950's so saw the damage from the war and it really affected me. I am happy to know of this book and will get it to rea.