Book review: Goodbye Piccadilly by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’ epic Morland Dynasty series has been thrilling readers for over 30 years and now she returns with a new and exciting family drama set against the momentous events of the First World War.

Thursday, 19th June 2014, 11:00 am
Goodbye Piccadilly by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Goodbye Piccadilly, which introduces us to the Hunter family, heralds the start of the War at Home series which promises to reprise the same winning formula as the ever-popular Morland epic.

With her keen eye for detail and accuracy, wide range of credible characters and vivid storytelling skills, Harrod-Eagles excels in bringing us history in a very human form.

Through the trials and tribulations of banker Edward Hunter, his wife Beatrice, their six children, the staff they employ and their neighbours, we see England and the Great War in a fascinating domestic, social and political microcosm.

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Northcote in the summer of 1914 is an attractive and prosperous small town nestled in the countryside of southern England. It is only 20 miles from London but feels like it could be 120 miles away.

The Hunter family have lived at their substantial country house, The Elms, since 1895. Edward Hunter, a banker in the city, loves the peace and quiet but his wife Beatrice (Beattie) still misses the noise and bustle of London.

Now that her six children no longer need her on a day-to-day basis, Beattie has thrown herself into the social and charitable affairs of Northcote.

Their eldest son David, aged 20, has just completed his second year at Oxford University but he is growing restless, claiming to be tired of ‘living through words’ and ready to do something ‘glorious and noble.’

His sister Diana is 19 and longs to get married. She is famously beautiful but with great beauty comes responsibility. She is expected to marry well and has her sights set on the rather stolid and unimaginative Viscount Dene, Charles Wroughton, son of the Earl of and Countess of Wroughton, who also live in Northcote.

At 27, Charles is still unmarried but, although he has been bowled over by Diana’s charms and beauty, he fears his parents will never allow him to marry a banker’s daughter.

Watching her siblings from the sidelines is 16-year-old Sadie Hunter who does not possess her sister’s good looks and knows that the only alternative to marriage is to stay at home and look after her parents in their old age. Quick-witted and ambitious, she is determined to try to make more of her future.

Below stairs, Ethel, the under-housemaid, is tough and headstrong, and already causing waves with her flighty behaviour around young men. But there is more to this young woman than meets the eye.

When war erupts and once-peaceful Northcote starts to reel under an influx of khaki volunteers, wounded soldiers and Belgian refugees, everyone must find a way to adapt to an increasingly different and dangerous world.

Goodbye Piccadilly sees Harrod-Eagles on top form as she blends real history with the compelling story of a family caught up in the harsh winds of a war that changed Britain – and the world – forever.

Beautifully written and full of drama, insight and humanity, this is an impressive opener to the War at Home series which looks set to both inform and entertain…

(Sphere, hardback, £19.99)