BOOK CLUB: A Stranger In My Street

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Author: Deborah Burrows
ISBN: 9781742611013
RRP: $26.99

The year is 1943 and there is a World War raging. Perth is plastered with propaganda posters and in the midst of an American invasion with troops stationed permanently in the city.

I went into this book with an open mind and a deliberate lack of expectations. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to be letting myself in for so I wanted to be open to all eventualities.

Perth is pumping, there are lots of parties and lots of dancing. The women in Perth are having a ball living it up with the American troops; they have more of everything and are extremely generous with the Australians that welcome them.

Meg Eaton isn’t enjoying anything about the war as she struggles back from the heartbreak of losing her love to the war. And then everything changes the day she discovers a body in the neighbour’s back yard, and meets the older brother her lover idolised.

The discovery of the body changes everything in this quiet little street, it starts to show people in a different light  and demonstrate the discrimination faced by minority groups. Discrimination is present all the time, we see it even today in many different forms, but it seems that in times of war it becomes even more pronounced. All are judged on the actions of some. Men born in Australia of Italian parents are branded Italians, stereotyped and judged on the basis of their parentage, because the Italians are not fighting with the Australians in this war.

a stranger in my street

The discovery of Doreen’s body is the turning point for many people involved in this story and from this point on we delve into the lives of Perth natives and their American visitors throughout this bloody period of history. The men who were physically injured, psychologically damaged, those left behind by the men who didn’t make it home and the soldiers trying to make it bearable far from home.

On the surface this book is the story of a murder investigation in a quiet street where everybody knows everybody else, a street steeped in a sense of community where in most cases everyone feels at least a slight sense of responsibility for their neighbours.

It is also the story of a generation of men who faced horrors that defy understanding by those of us who never faced it, a tribute to their bravery and the demons that those who made it home had to live with for all of their days.

And it’s the story of corruption, addiction and deception that runs rife in a society plagued by rationing and conscription on their struggle back from the depression.

Of course there are also elements of romance so this books really does have a bit of everything.

If you are interested in the modern history of our country and the every day lives of people in a city affected by war but not in the first line of defence then I think this is a book you will enjoy. It was interesting to picture a Perth of today as it would have been during WWII, still struggling back from the depression.

The mystery and piecing together the puzzle of the murder captured me. The immediate finger pointed at the husband for reasons I won’t go into, by the police and the community. It is just that trusting Meg believes better of him and undertakes some sleuthing of her own.

Deborah Burrows has taken a dark time in our history and brought it to life in a way that I wasn’t expecting. The characters are vivid and I can actually picture Lagrange in his khakis, more so than the Americans in their tailored uniforms.

12 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: A Stranger In My Street

  1. Set in Perth during World War II in 1943, A Stranger In My Street is a murder mystery filled with love, suspense and intrigue! Meg, lost in her boring life since her lover, Peter Lagrange, died eighteen months earlier, refuses to date or socialise with the troops because she feels nothing comes close to the love she shared and lost with Peter.

    An unexpected encounter changes her life forever when she meets a handsome Australian troop who bears the same surname as Peter. Both curiosity and fear draw her to the stranger named Tom Lagrange – Peter’s big brother.

    It is during this meeting that they both stumble across the dead body of Doreen Luca who is renown for flirting and frolicking with the troops while her husband is away. Meg and Tom become involved in their own detective work, trying to find out what happened to Doreen and Meg questions Tom’s involvement with Doreen, as she becomes suspicious he is hiding something from her.

    Meg and Tom have one thing in common and that is their love for Peter. The emotional bond they develop enables Meg to release herself from her grief stricken state and enjoy life again through dancing, dating and deep conversations with Tom. They connect on both a physical and intellectual level however Tom is engaged to be married to a stunning Perth socialite.

    The characters, especially Meg, are very believable and likeable, even if Tom comes across as somewhat arrogant in places and there is also his uncertain involvement in Doreen’s death! Tom’s character also has many levels as he fights his inner post war demons.

    Burrows has done her homework thoroughly as the characters are typical of that era and it is clear she has established this story around well researched Australia during the World War II era. The book explores issues such as racism, social class, culture and women’s status in society and I can easily picture this novel as a movie or TV miniseries!

  2. I loved A Stranger In My Street. The historical side of Australians at war in 1943 and how Perrh and its surrounding areas coped with the onslaught of the Japanese, and I guess you would say an invasion of American soldiers who were there to help protect them and Australia. The history in the story I really was engrossed in, and it really opened my eyes to a few things, such as the detention of Italian immigrants because they were fighting with Hitler and were therefore all scorned even though they had no direct influence on the war and for all intents and purposes were Australian citizens if not Australian born. You never think that sort of hatred can exist but seeing how quickly the finger is pointed at an Italian for the murder simply because he is Italian and they were known to carry knives it really makes you see that propaganda is dangerous no matter where it happens.
    Poor Meg has such a rough time in her young life, but I love her strength and how she looks all her troubles straight in the eye, and Tom with all his demons and nightmares is really a decent caring man.
    I love how they investigate the murder getting to know each other along the way, and also introducing some very colorful characters such as Chad and Betty, and her young neighbors jimmy and Stan.
    The mystery of the murder definitely carries through the story smoothly and I still hadn’t completely figured out who had done it until it was confessed.
    The book was really enjoyable, and easy to read. I will definitely be recommending it to my friends.

    1. I forgot to add, as I wrote this up last night when I had finished reading, that I loved how Meg described the dancing and jitterbugging, it lent a realness to the story that I loved and I could almost imagine that I was there in the ’30s enjoying the wartime dances with the local girls and the American soldiers.

  3. A romantic mystery set in wartime Perth, A Stranger in My Street fails to live up to its promise. The story is told through the eyes of Meg Eaton, a young woman who lost her boyfriend to war eighteen months previously and is still grieving.
    Meg meets Tom Lagrange, her boyfriend’s brother, in her street looking for her neighbour Doreen. Later in the day Meg and Tom discover Doreen’s murdered body in a neighbour’s bomb shelter. The blurb at the back of the book however says that Meg meets Tom standing over a body in her neighbour’s backyard. This might have presented a more interesting scenario.
    The police investigation into the murder is perfunctory as they are convinced Doreen’s husband. Frank is responsible for her murder. The murder takes a back seat to the developing relationship between Tom and Meg and Meg’s re-enagement with life as she begins to enjoy the social life provided by the American servicemen based in Perth for a large part of the book.
    I think the book is constrained by the fact that it is told in first person. This results in things like the clumsiness of Meg eavesdropping on Tom’s interview with the police as a mechanism to gain some insight into Tom’s relationship to Doreen and why he was looking for her. It also means we don’t get to know the other characters, Doreen, Betty, the American servicemen, Phyllis, Tom’s fiancee and even Tom himself very well.
    The best part of the book is the depiction of the social life and mores of wartime Perth.
    Overall I found the book an easy but rather dissatisfying read.

  4. A thoroughly enjoyable read . A Stranger in my Street was certainly an enthralling and enjoyable read which I was unable to put down . I was able to immerse myself in the story through the eyes of Meg who is still grieving the loss of her boyfriend . The story is set in Perth in 1943 when Australians were at war and American soldiers were based here. Meg meets Tom ( who turns out to be her boyfriends brother) and together they discover the body of her neighbour Doreen . The murder mystery aspect to the story is certainly a fascinating one as I for one usually have worked out the “killer” well before the end of the book but A Stranger in my Street certainly kept me guessing to the absolute last pages . The characters are engaging and the relationship between Meg and Tom convincing and I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone .Thank you Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read this novel and I will certainly be on the look out for future novels from this author

  5. I was really impressed by how absorbing this book was. I’d certainly expected to enjoy it, but it was amazing to glance up and realise I’d read the first 50 pages without noticing. It reels you in quickly and you’re thoroughly caught up in the novel before you have time to realise it.

    Obviously I don’t know war-time Perth – I was born a quarter of a century after this book was set. And I only know modern Perth slightly, having visited a few times. Despite this, Burrows’ depicted Perth strongly enough that it felt familiar to me – I could recognise some of the places, and the atmosphere felt much as I would have expected from my historical studies and reading. So far as I know, too, Burrows was historically accurate in her details.

    The most important thing for me, though, was the characters. They are what really dragged me into the story, and kept me caring about what was going to happen next.

    Meg Eaton is the narrator and heroine. She’s a far more complex character than you find in many romance oriented novels. She is a young woman in a time when values and expectations are starting to change; traditional views about things such as sex outside of marriage are still publicly espoused, but many young people are quietly acting in a different way. Many have had it brought home to them all too bitterly that there may very literally never be a tomorrow. Meg is well aware of these contradictions; she tries not to hurt the older or more traditional people around her, but she still makes her decisions based on what she feels is right.

    Meg is young, and relatively sheltered, and naïve in some ways. But she’s also intelligent, forthright, and caring. Importantly, for much of the novel she is able to articulate what is important to her and be true to that. Most readers are going to both empathise with and admire Meg. She’s a real drawcard to keep reading; you want to know what decisions she will make and what will happen to her.

    Meg’s one blind spot seems to be Tom LaGrange. He is the older brother of the young lover she has already lost to the war. Meg does not know how she feels about him, and as she slowly starts to recognise her feelings, she’s unable to decide what to do about them (a problem she has with few other issues). Tom is more badly damaged by the war than Meg initially realises; and at first she is caught up by the way he underlines her lasting grief. But then he starts to help her move through it, and begin to find a way to open herself to life again. And soon she begins to look at him as more than a friend. Which is a problem; not only is he her lover’s brother, he’s engaged to a society beauty.

    Around this story Burrows weaves a murder mystery, and a depiction of what damage war can wreak on both those who fight it and those who stay at home. The murder mystery was interesting, but not rivetting, and it isn’t really a major focus of the novel. It’s interesting that the time taken to resolve it is more reflective of real life (months) than most crime novels (days). The depiction of what war can do was both vivid and thought provoking.

    I really enjoyed this novel, largely on the strength of the characters. I enjoyed finding out the unexpected aspects of their characters, and I enjoyed the way Burrows took some time to reveal some of these surprises. I liked the majority of the characters, and understood the ones I didn’t like. I strongly wanted to know what happened to people. I’d recommend this highly to readers who want an intelligent and realistic novel which includes a little from a few genres: romance, crime, and recent history. Like real life they’re all mixed in together, and it makes for an entertaining and engrossing read.

  6. Three words:
    I was impressed.

    The style of writing reminded me very much of my own, being highly dramatic, realistic and with a sense of romance at every turn. I loved the obvious depth of knowledge Burrows has about Perth; I really related to it, having lived here my entire life. It was a completely different perspective on a city I know and love. I really enjoyed the combination of many genres….there’s so much! There are historical references, a sense of romance, suspenseful mysteries and so much more 🙂

    I really related to Meg for some reason; her innocence and knowledge combine to create an interesting character which includes a connection with Tom.

    Overall, I enjoyed it. Great read.

  7. A very interesting read, it hit all the points, mystery, murder, romance and a touch of history. Not being too much of a war fan I was glad Deborah Burrows was able to weave the history and facts of war into this novel without dwelling too much on the killing.

    A great insight into what war life was like for the people of Perth. Deborah did well to integrate the forced detention of migrants, include racial issues all without the reader feeling malice toward the characters. What this author did well was to give a 3D view of the situation, how normal people felt and facts of the case all while delivering a truly enjoyable read.

    At no point did the story fail or become boring but continued to draw little threads of information out to keep you reading.

    The writing was also colourful enough to see Meg’s new dress, hear the music and see the dancing. The story had just enough twists and turns to keep you thinking “it was her”, “no it was him” but to be honest I did not guess until the end.

    A book I am happy to recommend.

  8. I really enjoyed reading this book. It was not what I thought it was going to be. I just thought it was another romance set during war time, but it was so much more! There’s a murder mystery to solve too and I’ll admit that I wouldn’t make a very good detective as I had no idea ‘who done it’. The descriptions of war time in Australia were interesting, but the author didn’t go over the top talking about the war. The main character, Meg, was lovely and brave and the interactions between her and the male lead, Tom, we’re thoroughly enjoyable. I will be recommending this book to all of my friends.
    Thank you once again Beauty and Lace for another great book to review. >:o)

  9. I don’t want to say too much because I think that everyone will really enjoy reading A Stranger In My Street. It is a murder mystery of sorts, and cleverly so – not surprising as the author is herself a lawyer. Perhaps the best aspect of this novel is the wonderful description and imagery that really brings the war era alive, and not just in the cliche ways we are familiar from history class and films, but in a true, detailed depiction of Perth during this long ago time. Even the language used is appropriate to this era and I felt as though I had travelled back in time. It’s a delight!

  10. I’ll start this review by saying that I’m not the biggest fan of history. It was always my least favourite subject at school – perhaps because of our monotonous teacher who was old enough to be in the textbooks herself – and I viewed much of what we learned as a dreary timeline of dates, events and names. To me, history neither had that spark of life (pun intended), nor the captivating fascination of other subjects.

    This is why I was so surprised by how much I genuinely enjoyed this book. I’ll admit I was tentative at first when I actually received the book and saw all the pages, the weight of the novel in my hands capturing unwelcome flashbacks of the heavy textbooks we used in class. Yet once I began to read and immerse myself in the very different world of Perth during WWII, those textbooks became a distant memory (as they should be).

    The strength of this book comes from its ability to beautifully capture and portray the holistic atmosphere of a vibrant city affected by the war, from the dances and parties of the social scene to the multi-layered war heroes and everyday Australian locals that bring the town to life. Hitting the right balance between descriptions, dialogue and narrative, the prose is written smoothly and consistently, and makes for an easy read. I was especially impressed with the meticulous details that Burrows seemed to effortlessly integrate throughout the book, such as the WWII propaganda posters that she even went so far as to describe and quote, without ambitiously over-scrutinizing the details as one might be tempted to do. Reaching the final pages, the notes on “Further Reading” displays the great lengths of research that was put into this book, and such effort certainly gives the novel a realistic, honest glow.

    Further, the characters are well described and three dimensional. It is completely believable that such individuals could have lived in Perth in 1943, and Burrows does a brilliant job of bringing each of their personalities and mannerisms to life. In particular, I really enjoyed following the relationship between main protagonists, Meg Eaton and Tom Lagrange. Their relationship is complicated enough to start with as Tom is the older brother of Meg’s past lover who was recently killed in the war, but entwine that with a murder mystery, a fiercely jealous fiance, corruption in the army, unjust racism and a scandalous newspaper that reports it all, and you’ve just scratched the surface of this complicated plot.

    All in all, I have to say that this book has restored my faith in history being more than comatose-inducing textbooks. I remember studying Australia during WWII in class and would have loved it if a book like this was a reading requirement, because I learned so much about the past from the story yet it never felt like studying due to the effortless integration. This is a lovely read that I would recommend to friends, especially if I know someone learning about WWII or is interested in history. For a debut author, this book is brilliant, and I look forward to future books by Burrows.

    Thanks Beauty and Lace for this review opportunity… and a chance to reconnect with our fascinating past!

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