The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox.This novel begins in the sweltering summer of 1976 (seemingly so beloved of authors in recent years), with young journalist Ed Peters visiting Brightland – a vaguely disguised Brighton. However, the disguise works, as everything about this book feels as though it is being glimpsed out of the corner of your eye, rather than looked upon clearly.
I really recognised the era that the author writes about – that never ending summer, filled with ladybirds that swarmed everywhere. Ed’s mother committed suicide when he was young, but her happiness seemed to be linked to this seaside place and so he is drawn there. Her love of old black and white movies leads him to a shop, owned by Theo Williams, who sells stage and film memorabilia. When he comes across a photograph of a beautiful, young actress, she turns out to be Theo’s sister, the former silent movie actress, Leda Grey.
Sensing a story, Ed sets out for White Cliff House, where Leda has lived as a recluse for many years. Theo gives him a message for her – it is time she told the truth… We follow Ed as he heads to the house on the cliff, which seems to be literally crumbling into the sea; with no water or electricity supply. Leda is elderly now, but her house is a museum to her time as muse to the enigmatic Charles Beauvois. Ed also meets a local woman, Lucy, whose grandmother worked for Leda. In Leda’s sepia world, Ed begins to piece together what happened so long ago with Leda and the mysterious Mousier Beauvois, who disappeared like the faded films and props that she surrounds herself with.