Originally published: 2 April 2020
Author: Lucy Atkins
Published by: Quercus
Length: 368 pages
Reading dates: 26-30 March 2020
When the 8 year old daughter of an Oxford College Master goes missing in the middle of the night, the police turn to Scottish nanny Dee for answers.
We see through a series of flashbacks prompted by police questions how Dee came to be a nanny for the family. Nick is a newly appointed Oxford College Master and has just moved into the Master’s Lodging on Magpie Lane, along with his second wife, Mariah and his 8 year old daughter Felicity. Felicity is almost mute, only ever talking to her father. Nick and Mariah look for Dee to be a stable influence and Dee empathises with Felicity, and treats her tenderly, slowly gaining her trust and love.
Dee tells the police of the neglect that she feels Felicity suffers at the hands of Nick and Mariah. They are either entertaining at their house most nights or attending events elsewhere and they leave Felicity almost exclusively in Dee’s care. We hear how desperately fragile Felicity is after the death of her mother, how she is convinced her attic bedroom is haunted.
We also hear how Dee and Felicity become friends with an eccentric house historian called Linklater who takes them all over Oxford, explaining the history of the streets and visiting graveyards. Despite Felicity’s fragile nature, she seems to come alive during these outings.
When Dee is in London one night on a rare night off, and Nick is away on business, Felicity disappears. Mariah is exhausted having recently given birth and doesn’t realise Felicity is gone until the morning. Both parents are keen to blame Dee despite her not having been at the house and the police are also convinced she is involved.
I loved this! I’m sure I’m not the only reader to suffer from the dreaded Covid-19 reading slump, While I have been reading, nothing has held my attention quite like this. The descriptions of Oxford and the antient traditions that the faculty of the University uphold were captivating. I also loved hearing about the history behind Oxford and it’s former residents who are buried in the graveyards there.
Felicity broke my heart – especially hearing of how sad she was from Dee’s point of view. Obviously a very disturbed little girl who just needed her parents to spend some time with her to help her heal. She hardly sleeps, convinced she is sees the ghosts of her mother or the boys who lived in the attic in the early 1900s. She barely eats anything and is desperately unhappy at school, unable to fit in when the other children tease her for not talking. And things get worse for her when Mariah gives birth and the baby becomes the centre of attention.
I also really liked Dee, a mathematical genesis who fell into childcare by accident. She is also fragile much like Felicity but has learnt to keep her hurt hidden deeply inside her.
The whole book is about the mystery of what actually happened to Felicity. Was she kidnapped or did she simply go sleepwalking in the night and got hurt or lost? Dee is keen to blame the neglectful parenting of Nick and Mariah; Nick is keen to blame Dee as he doesn’t like her influence on Felicity.
This kept me guessing right to the end of the book. Magpie Lane was a really entertaining read filled with history, creepy goings on and a real mystery that kept me on tenterhooks! A brilliant read – I look forward to working my way through Lucy Atkin’s back list!
Thank you to Quercus for my gifted copy for review as part of the blog blast. Don’t forget to check out these other awesome bloggers!
About the author:
Lucy Atkins is an award-winning author, Sunday Times book critic and journalist. Her new novel, Magpie Lane, is a literary thriller narrated by the nanny of a missing girl, and set in an Oxford College. Her other novels are The Night Visitor, The Other Child and The Missing One.
Lucy reviews books for The Sunday Times and has written for newspapers such as The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, the T.L.S, and many magazines. She has also written several non fiction books, including the Amazon #1 parenting bestseller, First-Time Parent (Collins, 2008). She lives in Oxford with her family.