Book review: A Promise Between Friends by Carol Rivers

Life in post-war 1950s London is full of hope and promise for two East End girls'¦ but there are dark forces at large which threaten to destroy their new beginnings.
A promise between friendsA promise between friends
A promise between friends

Welcome back to the gritty cockney world which has become a familiar backdrop to Carol Rivers’ gripping family sagas and dramas. This much-loved author’s stories spring from the warm-hearted and resourceful neighbourhoods of the East End, the heart of London’s docklands and home to a wealth of rough-tough characters.

In A Promise Between Friends, we meet pretty, ambitious 19-year-old Ruby Payne and her lifelong friend Kath Rigler who are eager to enjoy their post-war independence. Moving away from home to a bedsit in the East End is a chance to break free for them both, Kath from her abusive father and Ruby to escape the unhappy memories of her beloved brother Pete’s suicide two years before.

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The girls grew up together in the Isle of Dogs and Kath’s brother Bernie has always had a soft spot for fun-loving Ruby. But Ruby has ambitions. She has found work at a fashionable new dog grooming parlour close to the city and even though animals aren’t really her thing, she has high hopes of changing her fortunes.

Shy Kath, always unsure of herself, isn’t quite so lucky and has to make do with her tough factory job, leaning more and more on Ruby for emotional support.

But then Ruby meets handsome, charming Nick Brandon at a local club and, desperate to find real romance, she falls for his good looks and winning smile despite warnings from those around her that he is trouble.

And when Anna Charnwood-Smythe, owner of a modelling and escort agency, offers Ruby a job, the impressionable teenager is convinced that this is the start of a new and glamorous career.

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But Ruby’s taste of the high life will come at a cost for both her and Kath…

Rivers captures all the pioneering spirit of the 1950s in this gritty tale of love, loss, greed and betrayal. Feisty Ruby and her friend Kath embody all the hopes and dreams of a generation eager to escape the dark days of the war years and strike out in a brave new world.

But Rivers also reminds us that this was still an age very much bound by tradition and convention, an unforgiving place for those who did not conform to society’s ideas of what was right and ‘normal.’

Packed with emotion, drama, heartache, cockney humour and unexpected twists and turns, this compelling story guarantees plenty of laughter and tears before the last page has turned.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)

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