This third crime novel by feminist fashion expert Wilson is ultimately more interesting for its setting than its plot, which hinges on a pretty lame gimmick. The protagonist is naive twenty-year-old Dinah Wentworth, newly married to her older screenwriter husband and trying to find her own identity amidst the arty Fitzrovia scene of her husband and his friends. These include her husband's old filmmaking pals Hugh (relatively nondescript), Colin (intensely communist), Romanian film director Radu, willowy film star Gwen, property developer and potential film financier Stanley, has-been surrealist painter Titus Mavor, good-time girl Fiona, and assorted other journalists, artists, and gallery owners. Before long, one of the above is dead, and Dinah's deeply involved. In that oldest of plot devices, Dinah comes across the corpse and doesn't report it to the police right away. Anyone who's encountered this before in fiction (and really, who hasn't?) will recognize that her inaction will lead to all kinds of trouble for her as the plot progresses.
Soon, another of the above characters is charged with the murder on the flimsiest of pretexts. Things all get awfully complicated from here, as he has an alibi, but can't use it as it would expose him as a homosexual. Which also ties into dark events that took place during the war. Maybe. Or maybe it ties into some valuable Dali paintings the murder victim had. Or was said to have. Or maybe not. Or maybe the murder related to a love triangle. Or maybe not. It's a very murky plot just barely held together by Dinah and her husband's attempts to exonerate their imprisoned friend, with the help of a Jewish lawyer. Dinah does some haphazard amateur sleuthing, but the story is very herky jerky, and when all is revealed at the end, it's a major disappointment.
Fortunately, the book is greatly redeemed by its evocative portrayal of 1947 London, especially the semi-bohemian demimonde. Britain may have won WWII, but you sure wouldn't know it from this portrait of London (with a minor diversion to Brighton). The wartime unity of the nation is rapidly eroding in the face of an economy in tatters, food rationing, and the uncertain specter of the Cold War. And the bitter Winter isn't helping matters in a city still scarred by widespread bomb damage. Wilson does a nice job of weaving all this content into the story, along with a sense of social change, as Dinah notices a new freedom in fashion, makeup, and social mores. In terms of atmosphere and tone, it shares a great deal with classic noir novels such as Gerald Kersh's "Night and the City", Graham Greene's "Brighton Rock", Arthur La Bern's "It Always Rains on Sunday" (all made into excellent, if somewhat forgotten films) -- which is not to suggest that it's of that rank.
The plotting is a little too haphazard, the characterization a little too uneven, and the ending too gimmicky to make it wholly recommendable, but it's worth checking out by those with an interest immediate postwar London. The author is apparently working on a sequel.