It’s the summer of 1959, and the well-trimmed lawns of Sunnylakes, California, wilt under the sun. And at some point during the long, long afternoon, Joyce Haney vanishes from her home.
Ruby Wright arrives for work at Sunnylakes that day expecting the usual: chores she despises; sore joints; prejudice from her employers. And at least some kindness from Joyce. Instead, she encounters two terrified toddlers and a bloodstain on the kitchen floor. Joyce is missing.
Detective Mick Blanke, recently transferred to the area, is assigned the case, but before long he realises it is Ruby who holds the key to this mystery. She knows more about the secrets lurking behind the starched curtains of Sunnylakes than he ever could . . .
The Long, Long Afternoon is a riveting and deeply atmospheric mystery from the cracked heart of the American Dream.
The Long Long Afternoon had been on my book shelf since last year and I had been longing to start but knew I had other novels to read first, so the sense of anticipation was off the scale. Once started I did not want to put it down as I entered the world of the 1950’s housewife, the race issue, a hot Californian summer, and a detective licking old wounds. It was a heady steamy mix that Vesper used to write a novel that managed to cover so many issues, yet maintain the essence of a good crime, mystery novel.
At its heart she gave us three characters, all widely different, all with different issues that affected their lives.
Joyce, housewife, mother of two, on the surface the devoted wife with all the trappings of a well off suburban 1950’s housewife. But what really lurked underneath was a deeply unhappy woman, traumatised by her upbringing and wrestling with something that Vesper slowly revealed that would shock us the reader.
Ruby, the help, the cleaner, young, and black who lived on the wrong side of town, who wanted more than she currently had. Vesper, got her character just right, gave her guts and determination, a conscience, a realistic vision of her life. I loved how Vesper used her to highlight the issues the black community faced, the derision and scorn poured on them by the wealthy suburban housewives, the don’t touch the children, use the same facilities, a real portrayal of society.
Last but not least we had Mick, the detective, a fish out of water after a life in Brooklyn. Vesper gave him a wonderful vulnerability, a man making amends, a man with a broad outlook that brought him into conflict with those he encountered.
The heat of a summer, the simmering tensions of racial discontent and the disappearance of Joyce proofed a heady mix that Vesper used to her full advantage.
The voices of Joyce, Ruby and Mick came across loud and clear, as Vesper burrowed deep into their thoughts. My heart went out to Joyce, trapped, depressed, weighed down by expectation to be the perfect mother, the perfect wife, have the perfect home. A member of the Sunnylakes Women’s Improvement Committee, you would have expected she would have found support for her woes, but oh no, the committee sought to improve their lot in the kitchen , in the home, to better support their husbands and children. You wanted to scream and shout in frustration, until you took a breath and remembered the women’s movement wasn’t yet in full swing, men dominant in their role.
It was Ruby’s voice that sang to me more than another. Vesper captured her brilliantly, a black woman in a white world, sneered at, spat at, treated as a second class citizen. She had determination, guts and bravery that saw her strive to better herself, but also to find justice for Joyce her only white friend. Her collaboration with Mick, his sympathetic and broad minded approach was tinged with danger but they carried on regardless, intent on solving Joyce’s disappearance.
And of what of Joyce’s disappearance? This is where I believe Vesper excelled, that ability to weave the human aspects with the solving of a potential crime, the myriad of twists, the multiple suspects until the big reveal. It was a reveal that displayed the very worst of human nature, of jealousy, envy, of mental illness and downright spite. It showed the weaknesses of men, the need to have it all, and the inherent pressures on women and those in minority groups, a reminder of just how far we have come as a society.
The one thing I would say, is that the Long Long Afternoon would make the most amazing drama series. I cannot wait for what Vesper will deliver next.
I would like to thank Manilla Press for a copy of The Long Long Afternoon to read and review and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Inga Vesper is a journalist and editor.
She moved to the UK from Germany to work as a carer, before the urge to write and explore brought her to science journalism. She holds a MSc in Climate Change Management from Birkbeck College.
Inga has worked and lived in Syria and Tanzania, but always returned to London, because there’s no better place to find a good story than the top deck of a bus.