Bleeding Heart Square, by Andrew Taylor

June 4, 2009 at 9:01 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

Back in January, when I heard that Andrew Taylor would be the recipient of the 2009 Cartier Diamond Dagger, I posted “Honoring Andrew Taylor.” That post concludes with a promotional video for  Bleeding Heart Square (click here to view).

bleeding Having  recently finished this latest non-series offering from this fine author, I’m happy to recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction. Bleeding Heart Square is set in the year 1934. Most of the novel’s action takes place in London, with a few crucial forays into the countryside. The overarching mystery concerns the disappearance of Miss Philippa Penhow, who, some years previously had given her heart – not to mention her assets – to one Joseph Serridge, a man whose motives were  nothing if not suspicious. Looking into this murky situation on behalf of his sweetheart Fenella is Rory Wentwood, a would-be investigative journalist. In desperate need of a cheap place to live, Rory rents a room in a house on the rather ominously named Bleeding Heart Square. In that same rooming house in Lydia Langstone, who is fleeing an abusive husband and trying to adjust to living in reduced circumstances in a seedy set of rooms shared with her alcoholic father, Captain Ingleby-Lewis.

Around these and numerous other characters, intrigue swirls. In addition, there’s the the overlay of turmoil generated by various political factions of the day, each trying to drown out the other. In particular, socialist organizations square off against their fascist counterparts, in a manner that threatens violence:

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.*

Rory rightly senses that there’s a story here, too, for an enterprising (and hungry) journalist like himself – if he can live to tell it…

I confess that I had some trouble following the novel’s plot, largely due to the profusion of dramatis personae, most of whom were introduced early on in the narrative. But as with any number of crime novels I’ve read over the years, I wasn’t greatly bothered by this problem. In the case of Bleeding Heart Square, two qualities shone brightly enough to overcome any reservations: the writing is terrific, and the meticulous and atmospheric re-creation of a specific time and place is completely convincing. This is something that British artists do with a panache and subtlety that often seems to me downright supernatural. Certainly Andrew Taylor does it here with consummate skill.


*”The Second Coming,” by William Butler Yeats


  1. Best books of 2009: my own favorites « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Turning Point by Peter Turnbull White Nights by Ann Cleeves A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor About Face by Donna Leon August Heat by Andrea Camilleri The Price of Malice by […]

  2. Books to talk about – a personal view « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] The Accomplice – Elizabeth Ironside The Suspect – L.R. Wright Finding Nouf – Zoe Ferraris Bleeding Heart Square – Andrew Taylor Strangers on a Train – Highsmith The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo […]

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