The Other Mrs. Walker

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by Mary Paulson-Ellis

Margaret Penny, tired from an all-night bus ride, shows up at her mother’s doorstep in Edinburgh on the second day of 2011.

There’s a glint of something in her aging mother’s eye, but whether it is welcome for her daughter or for the half-empty bottle of rum Margaret carries isn’t clear.

What is clear is that Margret needs a job. On the advice of an acquaintance of her mother’s, she applies to the Office for Lost People for a job locating the survivors of the indigent dead. Her first assignment is Mrs. Walker; her only guide is a single-page police report stating no crime had caused Mrs. Walker’s death.

The mysterious Mrs. Walker died around Christmas 2010. Her whiskey glass fallen to the floor. Ice crystalizing on the wrong side of the bathroom window. A single can of peas in her fridge. Nineteen empty bottles of whiskey lining the bedroom walls. A random collection of possessions left behind: a Brazil nut inscribed with the 10 commandments; an emerald dress with sequins; a blue plate with a rotting orange.

Margaret’s only real lead is a stained, folded paper imprinted with “Rose & Sons, Jewelers of Distinction” and a London phone number. Mrs. Walker had used the paper to wrap up a pair of clementines she gave to a neighbor.

The Other Mrs. Walker has been described as a detective story without a detective. Margaret is working backward with bits and pieces, following leads to people who know some things but not others about the late Mrs. Walker. They give up their secrets reluctantly and not always accurately. The reader learns in alternating chapters about a set of people Margaret is unaware of. Their story runs from 1929, through ’30s, the Blitz, the 1950s and into the 1970s.

In a suspenseful and startling turn of events, readers will discover the identity of “Mrs. Walker” at her funeral. Margaret never will.

But then, ignorance can be a blessing. As one of her mother’s acquaintances says, “Don’t forget, dear. The past is dangerous country. Things there aren’t always what they seem.”

About the Author: Mary Paulson-Ellis

A resident of Edinburgh, Mary Paulson-Ellis earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Glasgow.  Her work has been honored with the first Curtis Brown Prize for Fiction in 2009 and the Literature Works First Page Prize in 2013.

Her short stories and nonfiction have been published in various magazines and anthologies, including New Writing Scotland, Gutter and the Herald.

Paulson-Ellis has a fascination with those who die alone and with what she calls “the murderous side of family life.  The Other Mrs. Walker (2016) was her first novel and was named Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year in 2017. Her second book is The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing. It also deals with an old man who dies alone, leaving others to uncover his history.


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