on 22 June 2015
One Thursday after school six of us teens met up outside the Gaumont in Cheltenham. With the exuberance of youth we giggled our way in to watch The Village of the Damned, a film adaptation of John Wyndham’s science fiction novel, The Midwich Cuckoos. I was mad keen on science fiction and eager to see the film and to hold the hand of Elaine (surname withheld to protect our blushes.). Sadly, Colin wasn’t so keen on the film and might have imbibed too much under-age cider. He kept tickling the girls either side of him and their histrionics, followed by booing from the audience around us attracted the manager who gave us a warning. A few minutes later the film was stopped and I thought we were definitely going to be ejected but sadly it was worse.
The date was 22nd November 1963
The manager walked in front of the now blank screen, coughed and said, “I am afraid I have shocking news. I’m sorry to say that John F Kennedy, the President of the USA, has been shot and feared dead.” He stood there as if not knowing what to say next. The auditorium hushed, waiting for him to say more.
He spread his arms wide. “There will be more news on the radio over the next hour or so, and television might be interrupted to update us. I don’t know about you, but I want to go home.”
People stood, too shocked to speak. Expect Colin, who giggled. Not understanding.
Over the years we have been subjected to many scenarios about the assassination. No one I knew believed that a lone gunman could have been so skilful, or ‘lucky’ to get those bullets in the right spot, at the right time with such a poor gun and yet it was harder to believe that an organisation, let alone the government, could do it. The whole topic is compelling, so it wasn’t that this was yet another book on whether Oswald did it, but oh good, another chance to ruminate on the tragedy. At the same time, that ‘where was I when...’ feeling returns to tease me.
In the words of Jean Gill when reviewing Mark Fine’s The Zebra Affaire, ‘this is a book to savour’ rather than gallop through. I thought the plot was developing too slow a pace to keep me interested until a revelation occurred that sent shockwaves through my Kindle, up my arm and blew me away. After that the pace changed from a gentle canter to gallop—later to canter again, and I was grateful. View from the Sixth Floor is one of those rare delights that uses pace to grab you by the throat, daring you to breathe, changing your view for ever.
On the 50th anniversary of JFK’s anniversary Olivia has the urge to see the Book Depositary for herself. Her neighbour, Bill, is a loner, tries to dissuade her from her journey but eventually insists on accompanying her. It’s a road trip romance spiced as a thriller. Some of the Americanisms made me laugh. The protagonist, Olivia, is fond of what she calls ‘hard apple cider’. In the UK all cider is hard apple except for scrumpy, which is made in the southwest in vats, often with meat thrown in to sizzle to nothing in the high acidity. I drank so much as a teen that I cannot bear the taste now. We’d drank some before entering the Gaumont...
Elizabeth Horton-Newton is adept at bringing luxuriant settings to the reader especially at the beginning of chapters such as ‘bright reds and golds of autumn looked like fire on the water’ and I loved where it was so hot the ‘rain caused steam to rise from the ground like small ghosts’. All right, the climatologist in me knows you can’t see steam, it’s condensation we view but it would lose its magic if rewritten. I’d ponder on what kind of music it was when the ‘band played covers’, a term not used in the UK and what on Earth are ‘snicker doodles’? Vive le difference!
I like quotes that set a chapter up. Many good ones in this book and my favourite and most appropriate is one by JFK: ‘The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, unrealistic.’ And as Olivia says, ‘We weren’t angry with one another, we were angry with the world.’
View from the Sixth Floor is both gentle in performance yet powerful in content, a page-turning thriller I’m glad to have read.