IT’S CHRISTMAS!!!! Well, almost. In a month’s time it will be Christmas Eve, the day that One Christmas Night is set. Thank you to Trapeze and Tracy Fenton for inviting me to take part in the tour. Before my review, here’s the blurb.
Nine lives. One street. And a secret behind every door.
Christmas is ruined on Newbury Street, Norwich.
Presents have been going missing from resident’s homes. There are rumours going around that it’s one of their own who’s been stealing from the neighbours. Festive spirit is being replaced with suspicion and the inhabitants of Newbury Street don’t know who to trust. The police presence isn’t helping matters, especially when they all have something to hide.
But Christmas is a time for miracles… and if they open themselves up to hope and look out for each other, they might discover the biggest miracle of all.
Newbury Street has had more than its fair share of crime in the run up to Christmas. A lot of the houses have been targeted by a burglar. A reverse Santa Claus who’s stealing all the presents. In the most recent burglary, which starts the book, even the food is taken including the gingerbread people made by the children from the house. This is a callous thief whose aim isn’t just to rob but to disturb the victims. To remind them that their homes and lives have been violated. This makes for a very vulnerable neighbourhood. And we hear from eight of the residents – Joanie Blake, Tash Blake, Wendy Finch, Sue Winters, Cynthia Ellis, Irma Wozniak, Craig Mullany and Frank Blake as well as the investigating officer, DC Lucy Crane. Robbed of their safety, it’s only a matter of time before secrets spill out.
Although we have the mystery of the thefts, the real story lies with the nine people mentioned above. Hayley Webster has made each voice unique. She has incredible observational skills and her attention to detail is second to none. I’m not necessarily talking about physical details but emotional ones. Technically I’m not allowed to quote from a proof but there are a few lines that spoke to me so clearly that I had to stop reading. Joanie Blake’s mother, Ally, died earlier in the year. Joanie, a young mother herself, is facing her first Christmas without Ally. She and her sister, Tash, are struggling and are arguing over small things.
‘They’d already had one argument today, about the turkey of all things. Mum might have laughed about that. That’s the thing when someone dies. You can only imagine what they’d say or do in all the situations they are no longer here for, but, really, that’s the imaginary them you’ve created. It’s not really them. Everybody who loved them is imagining a different person. Much like when they were alive.’
I know how true that is and often we imagine that person’s response to fit our own purpose. Joanie isn’t the only one facing bereavement at Christmas. Wendy Finch has just lost her husband. Wendy’s one of my favourite characters (Cynthia Ellis is the other – more of her later) and her grief is so raw. The passages for this character are achingly and hauntingly beautiful. Wendy remembers Christmases past (Babycham glasses with the deer on) and has to summon up the courage to face the predicament she finds herself in now. Thanks to Joanie’s kindness in inviting her to stay, she’s able to do that.
Cynthia Ellis has it all. Doesn’t she? A lovely house, a successful husband and plenty of money. So why is she at home all the time? Why isn’t she at the fundraiser at the pub, raising money for the burglary victims, especially as she’s one of them? But Cynthia has been robbed every day for most of her life. Bit by bit, her ‘self’ has been reduced in size until she’s just a husk, unable to voice her own thoughts or opinions. She has been completely shaped by her husband. Hayley Webster has handled abuse and coercion in a very sensitive way. It’s a thing of beauty when Cynthia finally emerges from the cocoon John has kept her in, always telling her to stay home where it’s safer.
I became so wrapped up in these people’s lives that I almost forgot about the thief. There is an unveiling at the end bringing relief to some but anguish to others. I took my time reading One Christmas Night, absorbing the stories of the neighbourhood until I felt as though I lived there. This is a book crying out to be made as a TV Christmas Special so that everyone can share in the lives of the residents of Newbury Street, Norwich. A stunning book. And an absolute contender for my top ten reads of 2019.
To buy One Christmas Night click here.
Hayley Webster is a writer and teacher who grew up in Newbury, Berkshire. Her first novel, Jar Baby, was published by Dexter Haven in 2012 and, as Hayley Scott, three books in her Teacup House series for emerging readers were published by Usborne in 2018. She has written for Grazia, The Observer Magazine, and did a sold-out event at Edinburgh festival in 2018. She’s a mentor on the 2019 National Writers Centre Escalator scheme and she lives in Norfolk with her daughter.