Edinburgh’s seaside Portobello district in 2019, and Essie Pound is part of a specialist cleaning team clearing a flat after an elderly woman’s body is found two years after her death. Part of Essie’s job is to look out for objects in the flat that might explain more about who the person was and why she died. But Essie gets pulled into a deeper mystery, one that takes her back into Portobello’s pasts as well as her own. Investigating more formally is young police officer Emily Noble. Their work is bound to coincide.
Essie says: “Just like Isabella Dawson, my whole life is hidden. From me. And from everyone else too. But not because I’ve buried it in someone else’s rubbish. More because I don’t have anything or anyone to remind me of what it might have been.”
Mary Paulson-Ellis is a new crime and mystery author for me, but I will definitely be seeking out her other standalone novels (which feature some characters from this book). I’m a fan of Elly Griffiths and Ann Cleeves, for their readable characters and good plots, and Paulson-Ellis definitely delivers on these.
Emily Noble’s Disgrace made me remember the excellent biography The Trauma Cleaner, in which author Sarah Krasnostein covers not only Sandra Pankhurst’s life in trauma cleaning but also her transition.
There are strong women characters, and reflections on women’s lives. Some of the themes in the book make for hard reading – for example, suggested child death, and fat phobia. But the story is compelling, the writing is strong, and I read this cover to cover in a day.