By Lucy Atkins
MAGPIE LANE is a domestic thriller centering on a troubled eight-year-old girl; her ambitious, narcissistic parents; and a quickly hired nanny.
Nick Law, a former BBC director with a reputation as a harsh manager, has been hired as a College Master at Oxford University.
His hiring isn’t wholeheartedly welcomed by his faculty. The college finances are dwindling; donors are desperately needed; students want relevance; and the faculty wants to maintain tradition.
His Danish wife Mariah is used to standing out, not blending in, and the college dons won’t forgive her for it. She runs a demanding wallpaper restoration business based in London. One of her first projects is redecorating the 400-year-old Master’s Lodge. She paints over Elizabethan wood paneling, bleaches a Jacobean floor and removes all the dour portraits of former college masters. Another black mark against her in faculty eyes.
Typical and telling is that Mariah brings in her staff to painstakingly remove wallpaper on the wall of a staircase to be restored and replaced — but neglects to address wallpaper in a hidey hole in her stepdaughter’s room made with a poisonous green dye.
Neither parent has much time for Law’s daughter Felicity. Felicity’s mother, Law’s first wife, died four years ago. Since then Felicity has become selectively mute, painfully shy and depressed. Her stepmother takes it personally. She has assigned Felicity and the nanny, Dee, to attic rooms. Felicity’s rooms overlook the gargoyles on the roof of the chapel across the lane and contain the hidey hole once used to hide Catholic priests during the Reformation.
Dee is an experienced nanny. She prefers short-term assignments with visiting professors. Felicity’s situation touches her. The Laws hire her after a short interview and perfunctory check of her references. She slowly earns Felicity’s trust.
But the more Dee tries to protect Felicity, the more she finds herself on a collision course with Nick and Mariah. Just as it becomes clear that the Laws are planning to fire Dee, Felicity vanishes one night. Nick is convinced that Dee is the culprit, but the police can find no evidence to support Nick’s allegations and their own suspicions. But the investigation exposes secrets in both Dee’s background and the Laws’.
This is a wonderfully suspenseful novel. Author Lucy Atkins does an excellent job of creating a lonely, frightened little girl with hellish parents and a chaotic household. She also brings the streets, cemeteries and history of Oxford and its famed former residents alive.
About the Author: Lucy Atkins
Author Lucy Atkins knows Oxford well having studied English at Oxford University and now residing there with her family and dog. She teaches in the University of Oxford Creative Writing masters degree program.
She is the daughter of lexicographer B. T. S. Atkins and the niece of linguist JohnMcHardy Sinclair.
She is the author of three other books, in addition to MAGPIE LANE: THE MISSING ONE (2014); THE OTHER CHILD (2015); and THE NIGHT VISITOR (2017), which has been optioned for television.
In addition to writing and teaching, she is a book critic for The Sunday Times and writes reviews and features for other newspapers in the United Kingdom, including The Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Time, The Telegraph and The Sunday Express.
Before becoming a freelance writer, she worked for Amnesty International (UK).
After earning a degree from Oxford, Atkins was a Fulbright Scholar studying English and American literature in the United States. She has lived in Boston, Seattle and Philadelphia.