Hokey Pokey by Kate Mascarenhas (book review).

A ghost story, a mystery and a period drama, Kate Mascarenhas’ ‘Hokey Pokey’ has all three and more.

Nora Dickinson is on a mission for her former lover, Leo. He thinks his wife, Berenice Oxbow, a famous opera singer, is being unfaithful while on her tour of Europe. Birmingham, it’s a hotbed of lust you know.

That’s Birmingham, England where the characters assemble in the Regent Hotel, a fictional combination of various luxury lodgings including the Grand, where I’ve been drunk more than once in the past. It’s 1929 and the end of the 20s brings the rich to a luxurious hotel for Christmas. Some are residents and some passing through. Many are not what they seem, including the staff. A heavy fall of snow leaves the residents stranded. That’s never a good thing.

Nora is caught between memories of her childhood, a haunting and a desire to please Leo. She’s aware of many things that are wrong, not least because she’s a psychoanalyst herself. As the parade of characters are introduced, there’s a very Agatha Christie vibe but beware the path through the woods, it’s not always leading to where you think it is.

I didn’t see where this was going and I really enjoyed how it merged from the shell of a mystery into an entirely different living thing. This is not a long book but, like the previous novels by Mascarenhas, it takes us on an incredible and thrilling journey.

In case you’re wondering, ‘hokey pokey’ is a nettle rash. Something that continues to irritate well after the original event. This story which combines the fading glamour of the jazz age and Freudian psychology with the dark lurid fairy tales of Grimm is a most gripping read. Entertaining and intriguing this is one to enjoy again.

Sue Davies

July 2023

(pub: Bloomsbury, 2023. 336 page hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78954-385-8)

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