AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK // REVIEW BY ANDREW SMITH
Set in a fictional version of the Quarriers village for orphaned and unwanted children, The Homes tells the story of a series of murders of young and largely uncared for girls on their grounds.
The homes themselves are a collection of cottages each with their own house parents and 'families' of young people. Yet, although the girls are suffering, their pain is largely overlooked by an adult world that is prepared to look the other way and ignore their suffering.
On the face of it, this is a simple crime story or murder mystery, but at heart it is really a book about gender and class. It is a book about who is listened to and who isn't and why certain people are ignored.
The story is brought to life through the eyes of our protagonist, Lesley, who, at 12 years old, is one of the girls in care.
Introduced to us via a vicious playground fight, Lesley is an imperfect witness who has been failed time and again by an adult world that has taken much of her childhood and is now taking away her friends.
Within the opening chapters, a young girl's body is found in the woods near the village. The police are called to investigate but they don't seem set on doing very much about it.
Over the weeks that follow, more bodies are found, but there is little sense of urgency in the investigations.
The reaction of Lesley and her friends is where the story comes alive. They do, of course, try to get to the bottom of it, but they do so with no end of personal turmoil and drama going on in their lives.
The sense of time and location comes over very well in this exceptionally readable novel.
The small and austere 1960s world that the girls live in has been expertly crafted and explored by Mylett.
While Lesley occasionally writes beyond what could be expected of her 12 years, she is a compelling and emotive narrator who takes a childlike innocence and naivety into the cruel world that surrounds her. She is evocative, yet free of pretentiousness, and is lively and sympathetic without being trying or trite.
The relationship she shares with her best friend Jonsey and with her alcoholic mother are some of the highlights of this story. Painstakingly sad, but expertly weaved through the narrative, her mother in particular is one of the most memorable characters in their world.
In some respects the wealth and colour that is brought to the lives of Lesley and her friends is what makes this book hard to rate.
The world-building and characterisation are undoubtedly stronger than the actual mystery itself. The social history is fundamental to the story without going too far down a political road or being too insistent or polemic.
Yet If anything, this gripping and well-balanced universe is one of the things that makes the not entirely satisfying resolution feel a little bit too bolted-on.
Compelling, heartbreaking and compassionate, when this story shines it does so beautifully.
The Homes | By J.B. Mylet | 384 pp. | Viper | Paperback £7.61