Hey everyone! Hope you’re all having a good week. Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Summer House Party by Caro Fraser.
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication Date: April 6, 2017
Meg was much in Dan’s thoughts as he dressed for dinner. A very pretty thing, though still something of a schoolgirl. Her determined efforts to beat him at tennis gave her a certain garçonne appeal, and he found himself wondering if she’d look as good in a cocktail dress as she did in tennis shorts.
He went downstairs and through the drawing room to the terrace, where he found Sonia sitting with Meg and Gerald Cunliffe. Sonia procured a whisky and soda for Dan and introduced him to the great poet. Cunliffe was a little deaf – Sonia murmured to Dan that he was awaiting the arrival of a new hearing-aid in the post – so Dan’s initial attempts at conversation proved somewhat awkward. He persevered nonetheless and, having disposed of the subject of travel from London and Cunliffe’s liking for the countryside thereabouts, ventured some vaguely topical remarks on the subject of modern poetry, in deference to the great man’s standing. Cunliffe cupped his ear and asked him to speak up, and Dan repeated in a roar his enquiry as to whether the great poet had read and liked the works of the new young poet, Dylan Thomas.
‘Thomas? Detestable! Rhymeless, pretentious meanderings!’
Meg caught Dan’s eye and gave him a wink, and Dan returned it with a smile. She looked quite delightful in her evening dress of rose silk.
‘Edith Sitwell thinks him a perfect genius,’ remarked Sonia. ‘She’s quite taken him under her wing. He’s very poor, of course, so she tells me she has been writing to any number of people trying to find work for him.’ She glanced towards the French windows. ‘Oh, Madeleine, there you are.’
Seeing Madeleine close to for the first time, Dan was struck by how lovely she was, with clear-cut, delicate features, pale, almost translucent skin, and blue eyes so dark as to be almost violet. She made her entrance hesitantly, darting shy glances at everyone. Dan guessed she could be no more than sixteen. Bustling in behind her came Gerald’s wife, Elizabeth, a portly creature clad in bottle-green velvet. Sonia rose to usher her on to the terrace with tender concern.
‘How are you, Elizabeth? Did you manage a little sleep?’
‘I’m afraid not. The flies were buzzing at the window so, and with the state my nerves are in, it was all I could do to close my eyes for ten minutes. No, no – just plain soda water for me, thank you.’
Sonia had looked in on her guest twice in the past hour, and had found her on both occasions slumbering peacefully, and snoring lightly. When Elizabeth was settled in her chair with her soda water, Sonia introduced her and Madeleine to Dan, and half an hour or so drifted by in idle conversation, which Sonia deftly steered into mundane waters, knowing Gerald Cunliffe’s tendency to irascibility on matters of the day, politics in particular.
Madeleine sat with a glass of untasted sherry in her hand, glancing from face to face, not daring to venture any remark, but with some strange kind of ardour shimmering within her. With her fair hair pinned up and in her pale blue evening dress, she looked curiously like a sophisticated child, excited to be among adults.
The shadows began to lengthen across the lawn, and Dan was just wondering whether he could help himself to another whisky and soda when Henry Haddon made his appearance. The hitherto languid atmosphere coalesced into attentiveness and expectation. Haddon was in his late fifties, tall and broad- shouldered, and strikingly handsome. He wore his thick, silver hair long over his collar, and his contrastingly dark brows gave him a somewhat menacing aspect, even when he smiled. He was an impressive, charismatic figure, conscious of his own powers of attraction to men and women alike. When he was in good spirits, his ebullience and enthusiasm could light a room; when in a rage, his cold fury could freeze and terrify those around him. Tonight, however, his temper was tranquil and mildly playful, and he greeted the company with smiles and a couple of dry remarks. Drinks were refreshed, and after a few more minutes of conversation on the terrace, dinner was announced.
Madeleine was seated on Dan’s right, Elizabeth Cunliffe on his left. Elizabeth immediately began a testy little discourse with Sonia on the vagaries of servants, so Dan, searching for a topic on which to converse with Madeleine, remembered Meg’s remarks earlier about how Madeleine always had her head in a book, and asked her what she was reading at the moment. Her eyes brightened, and she responded with an enthusiasm which was like dawn breaking over a still pool. They talked on and off about books and poetry for the entire meal, with occasional interruptions when etiquette demanded that Dan should turn to his left to converse with Elizabeth Cunliffe, which involved listening to her diatribe on the inadequacies of Harley Street specialists. During these intervals Dan was aware that Haddon, who was seated at the head of the table on Madeleine’s left, paid not the slightest attention to the girl, preferring to continue with Cunliffe an apparently mutually agreeable grumble on the subject of the new King. Dan wondered if Haddon thought it infra dig that the nanny should be part of the company; even so, his behaviour to the girl seemed rude.
Madeleine was scarcely conscious of being slighted. Since her arrival at Woodbourne House she had become deeply infatuated with Henry Haddon; he seemed to her the epitome of manhood, a romantic and thrilling figure, but the idea of being made to converse with him terrified her. What could she possibly have to say that would interest him? She was happy to be seated near him, to be able to observe him at close quarters, to listen to his deep, confident voice, watch his expressive hands, and steal occasional glances at his face.
In the gloriously hot summer of 1936, a group of people meet at a country house party. Within three years, the country will be engulfed in war, but for now time stands still as they sip champagne on the lawn, engaging in casual flirtations and carefree conversation. Then a shocking death puts an end to their revelry, changing everything in an instant.
I am a 63 year-old writer and retired lawyer living in London. I was educated at Glasgow High School For Girls, and the Buchan School in the Isle Of Man. After attending Watford School of Art I worked for a number of years as an advertising copywriter, before switching careers to study law at King’s College, University of London. I was called to the Bar of Middle Temple in 1980, and it was as a barrister that I gained the insights and inspiration for my first novel, The Pupil, and the subsequent books in the Caper Court series, which chronicle the lives and loves of the barristers and clerks of a mythical set of chambers in the Temple, London. I have four children and am married to a lawyer. My father was the novelist George MacDonald Fraser.