The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan (Two Roads, HB £14.99)
Review and Extract
Reviewed by Karen Byrom
Once a celebrated author of short stories, now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew is the “keeper of lost things”. Since losing the one thing he treasured above all else, he has gathered up other folks’ mislaid belongings, in the hope that one day he will be able to reunite owner and item.
After his death, it falls to his assistant Laura to carry on his work. It’s a seemingly impossible task, even with the help of Freddy the gardener and Sunshine, a young Down’s Syndrome woman, who may be intellectually challenged but certainly isn’t lacking in common sense!
And all the while, the ghost of Anthony’s lost love makes her presence felt – sometimes helping, more often hindering as Laura tries to figure out just what it is she needs to allow her to rest in peace.
Charming, warm, witty
As The Keeper Of Lost Things’ story unfolds, we are also drawn into the story of Eunice, an incidental character in Anthony’s life, but one who may offer the clues that Laura so desperately needs to help her fulfil her employers’ last wishes.
The Keeper Of Lost Things is a charming story, warmly and wittily written with wonderful characters, not least of whom is Sunshine. Along with the narrative, we’re given a glimpse into the lives of people who have lost intangibles more important than mere items, none more than Laura who at 35 and divorced, needs more than anything else to find her way back to life.
Read on for the opening pages …
A safe pair of hands
Charles Bramwell Brockley was travelling alone and without a ticket on the 14.42 from London Bridge to Brighton. The Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin in which he was travelling teetered precariously on the edge of the seat as the train juddered to a halt at Haywards Heath. But just as it toppled forward towards the carriage floor it was gathered up by a safe pair of hands…
The man was glad to be home. Padua was a solid redbrick Victorian villa with honeysuckle and clematis framing the steeply pitched porch. The cool, rose-scented, echoing space of the entrance hall welcomed the man inside from the relentless glare of the afternoon sun. He put down his bag, replaced his keys in the drawer of the hall table and hung his panama on the hat stand.
He was weary to the bone, but the quiet house soothed him. Quiet, but not silent. There was the steady tick of a long-case clock and the distant hum of an ancient refrigerator, and somewhere in the garden a blackbird sang.
But the house was untainted by the tinnitus of technology. There was no computer, no television, no DVD or CD player. The only connections to the outside world were an old Bakelite telephone in the hall and a radio.
Every shelf was laden
In the kitchen, he let the tap run until the water was icy cold and then filled a tumbler. It was too early for gin and lime, and too hot for tea. Laura had gone home for the day, but she had left a note and a ham salad in the refrigerator for his supper. Dear girl. He gulped the water down.
Back in the hall, he took a single key from his trouser pocket and unlocked a heavy oak door. He retrieved his bag from the floor and entered the room, closing the door softly behind him. Shelves and drawers, shelves and drawers, shelves and drawers. Three walls were completely obscured and every shelf was laden and every drawer was full with a sad salmagundi of forty years gathered in, labelled and given a home.
Lace panels dressed the French windows and diffused the brash light from the afternoon sun. A single shaft from the space between them pierced the gloom, glittering with specks of dust.
Surely not human remains?
The man took the Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin from his bag and placed it carefully on a large mahogany table, the only clear surface in the room. Lifting the lid, he inspected the contents, a pale grey substance the texture of coarse-grained sand. He had scattered the like many years ago in the rose garden at the back of the house.
But surely these could not be human remains? Not left on a train in a biscuit tin? He replaced the lid. He had tried to hand them in at the station, but the ticket collector, cocksure that it was just litter, suggested that he put it in the nearest bin.
‘You’d be amazed at the rubbish people leave on trains,’ he said, dismissing Anthony with a shrug.
Nothing surprised Anthony any more, but loss always moved him, however great or small. From a drawer he took a brown paper luggage label and a gold-nibbed fountain pen. He wrote carefully in black ink; the date and time, and the place – very specific:
Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin containing cremation remains?
Found, sixth carriage from the front, 14.42 train from London Bridge to Brighton.
Deceased unknown. God bless and rest in peace.
He stroked the lid of the tin tenderly before finding a space on one of the shelves and gently sliding the tin into position.
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