By Anthony Quinn
Reviewed by Graeme Aitken
This new novel can’t really be described as a sequel, but it does share a handful of characters from Quinn’s previous book, Curtain Call, which was a superior crime novel set largely in London’s 1930s theatre world. The eponymous Freya is this novel’s main character, and the daughter of the famous London painter Stephen Wyley (who featured prominently in Curtain Call). We first encounter Freya at the end of WWII. She served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service and is finding prospects post-war (obtaining a degree at Oxford) a little tepid. Freya is ambitious, fearless, sexually adventurous, and also prone to swearing like a trooper. She’s also disinclined to endure something she’s lost interest in – whether it be a boyfriend or a job. She falls into journalism when she sniffs out a major story at the Nuremberg war trials and sacrifices her prospects at Oxford University to pursue it. Although Freya is the novel’s main character, there are several secondary gay characters and also a major plot strand that explores homosexuality in the 1950s. A middle-aged actor gets had up on a charge of gross indecency after a fling with a couple of young sailors, which sets the stage for Freya’s views on the subject and her objection to a newspaper moralising on what occurs behind closed doors. However, this incident is a mere warm-up to a homosexual scandal amongst Freya’s close circle of friends which serves as a major climax to the novel and leads to a breach with two of her best friends. Quinn is a master of characterisation and although Freya is an utterly dynamic heroine, at times some of the superbly drawn secondary characters almost upstage her – whether it be the heterosexual theatrical effete with a taste for spanking, or the acclaimed Vogue photographer who also dabbles in porn and has a taste for rough trade. Quinn’s dialogue is also especially well done, with Freya adept at delivering a witty quip or a snappy retort. The period London setting, especially the haunts of Soho, provide an atmospheric backdrop while the novel’s exploration of homosexuality and fledgling feminism in the 1950s add substance to this thoroughly engaging narrative.