The Clockmaker’s Wife by Daisy Wood: Packed with mystery, intrigue and race-against-time suspense - book review -
When their London home is demolished in the wartime Blitz, Nell Spelman is forced to escape to the countryside with her baby daughter.
But it means leaving behind her beloved husband Arthur, the clockmaker who literally keeps Big Ben ticking… and when he mysteriously disappears, she is determined to head back to the city and find him, wherever that may lead.
In her first published novel for adults, Daisy Wood – otherwise known as Jennie Walters, author of the Swallowcliffe Hall young adult series – brings readers a thrilling tale of love, survival, daring and espionage during the dark days of the Second World War.
At the heart of the story is the Palace of Westminster’s iconic Big Ben, the landmark whose chimes came to represent freedom and better times to come when it tolled on BBC wireless broadcasts both at home and in prison camps, cellars, attics and back rooms across Nazi-occupied Europe.
In this gripping novel, which unfolds across two timelines, Wood keeps readers glued to the page as a young mother becomes caught up in a deadly conspiracy to destroy Big Ben on New Year’s Eve in 1940, a move that might well have shattered the nation’s morale.
Born in England to German/Jewish parents, clockmaker Arthur Spelman’s job is to maintain the clocks at Westminster, including Big Ben. He winds and adjusts the hundreds of clocks that mark the hours as Parliament goes about its business.
In 1939, he falls madly in love with Eleanor (Nell) and by November of 1940, the two are married, are parents to baby Alice and are living in a terraced house in Vauxhall where bombs rain down every night in a seemingly endless wave of German air raids.
And one fateful night, as the family sleep in a nearby air raid shelter, the terror of the Blitz literally comes home when their house is demolished in a direct hit. Arthur and Nell had always pledged that whatever the war threw at them, they would face it side by side but now Nell and Alice are forced to move to rural Oxfordshire to live with her parents.
When Arthur disappears shortly after making a mysterious, panic-stricken phone call to Nell, she becomes desperate to find him and she heads back to London alone but her search will lead her into far darker places than she had ever imagined.
In New York in 2021, Ellie is watching her mother Alice sinking into old age in a nursing home and knows from the ‘blankness’ in her eyes that it won’t be long before her mother’s memories will be lost forever.
When Ellie discovers a beautiful watch that had once belonged to Eleanor Spelman, the grandmother she never knew but whom she was named after, she decides to travel to England to find out what happened to the woman who is said to have died when Alice was only a baby.
Ellie feels that her own life has been full of ‘wrong decisions’ and she wants to find her lost family for her mother’s sake before it’s too late. But as she pieces together the fragments of Nell’s life in wartime England, she begins to wonder if the past is better left forgotten.
Blending powerful fiction and expertly researched real history, and travelling between the Hudson River in modern day New York and the famous dolphin street lamps along the Thames Embankment in bomb-damaged London, Wood takes us on an enthralling and atmospheric rollercoaster ride.
Standing head and shoulders above a cast of well-drawn characters in both timelines is the indomitable Nell, a woman driven by her all-consuming love for her husband and a fierce resolve to seek him out amidst the ruin, despair and unexpected dangers that lurk in bombed-out London.
In the present day, we meet Ellie who is on her own mission to uncover the secrets and extraordinary story of her long-lost grandmother to take back to her fast-failing mother in the States.
With its breathtaking evocation of wartime London, moving exploration of the importance of family, and a large helping of mystery, intrigue and race-against-time suspense, The Clockmaker’s Wife is a captivating debut.
(Avon, paperback, £7.99)