Do you remember Playboy Bunnies? I think their heyday was somewhere in the 1960s and 70s. They really seem representative of that era (and one of the aspects of which I am not unhappy to see no longer in vogue). Laura Wilson's Hello Bunny Alice is steeped in 1970s aura and fittingly has a 'retired' Bunny as the protagonist who is terrorized for reasons she only slowly comes to understand by her dead lover's best friend. Laura Wilson writes a detective series set in WWII London featuring DI Ted Stratton and MI5 agent Diana Calthrop, which I am looking forward to reading. However, she has also written a number of crime novels that have been compared to some of my favorites--Ruth Rendell, Minette Walters and Frances Fyfield. The comparisons are well deserved and I'll be reading through her crime novels as well as the Stratton mysteries.
Hello Bunny Alice is definitely in the realm of psychological suspense. It's not exactly a crime novel nor a straightforward mystery, though there are elements of both. It's a slow burn of a story. A train wreck almost that you can't help but watch with some fascination and a fair bit of horror as events unfold. Set in the hot and steamy British summer of 1976, I suppose this story could be set anywhere and almost anytime, but all those 70s elements make it just the right sort of story. And perfect for my 1970s summer reading project.
In true Rendellian-style, the story opens with a newspaper cutting from 1970 about popular comic Lenny Maxted who has been hanged after battling inner demons helped along by heavy alcohol use. You know the story, too much fame too soon. Skyrocketing to popularity one moment, spun out of control the next, like yesterday's old news.
" . . .there were different Lennys, I knew that: Lenny the brilliant comedian, Lenny the drunkard, angry and bitter; Lenny the lecher who went out on the town with Jack."
It's news to Alice Conway that she and Lenny had just been engaged. Certainly they had been an item, and now he's gone. Fast forward six years to a farm in Oxfordshire where Alice is finished with her Bunny-days and keeps animals and a very low profile.
"I had the dream again last night. I'm at the bottom of a lake looking through the window of a car. Everything's gin-bottle green, murky, and there's a skeleton sitting behind the wheel, dressed as a bunny girl."
August 1976 and another newspaper cutting arrives in the mail. Alice opens her mail to find an article about a car having been found in a lake with human remains inside. Apparently it had been there for several years. And immediately brought to Alice's mind is Bunny Kitty who disappeared one night in 1969. Curiously the cottage where her lover, Lenny, killed himself is on the same estate as the lake. Surely it can't be a coincidence.
And then the reminiscences begin. How Alice and Lenny met--on the motorway where a little friendly car race results in an amorous afternoon in a haystack, and later he shows up at the club where she works. They click and quickly become a couple, but how else can such a relationship end? Lenny had been only one comic of a pair who rode the waves of fame until it all became too much. Jack, Lenny's partner, was just as handsome but maybe a little less mercurial, at least until he shows up on Alice's doorstep. And that's where the excitement begins.
Maybe there had always been a little spark of attraction between Jack and Alice. But she lets him in and all the memories begin flooding back. If Alice is haunted by the past, then Jack is even more so. The revelations start and the bottle comes out and Jack becomes increasingly unstable. It's a wicked and wild ride and a frightening one. Jack's demons seem to finally come at him and all his history with Lenny overtakes his reason. Drugs and alcohol fuel the fires and the fact that his daughter has died of starvation. Alice cannot escape from the past or from Jack.
This is a story that has all the earmarks of the period. Fame too much and too soon. Bunny Girls (complete with ears and puffy tail) who work in clubs that require members to carry their keys before they'll be served, too many parties, too much booze and too many drugs, daughters who have anorexia and starve themselves, hard living comedians who run out of laughs and become desperately pathetic . . .
"You had to set up the tray with the right glasses and garnish -- olive for a Martini, lemon twist if it was dry, cocktail onion if it was a Gibson, and some drinks had cherries or other bits and pieces--before you took it up to the bar. I knew the call-in order backwards, still do: Scotch, Canadian, Bourbon, Rye, Irish, Gin, Vodka, Rum, Brandy, Liqueurs, Mixed, Blended, Creamed, Beer, Wine, One for the money--the bottles were arranged in the same sequence so you called and the barman poured, except yours was right to left and his left to right, if you see what I mean."
Strangely, perhaps (?), I find this decade so fascinating. I remember it but only from the perspective of a child looking into the world from the safety of outside. I am off to quite a dramatic start, and it will be interesting to see how stories compare and perhaps and contrast and maybe even clash.