This is the fifth book in Anton du Beke's much loved series about life at The Buckingham Hotel. What began as a fairly light and frothy tribute to the golden age of Ballroom Dancing, has developed into a series that deserves to be taken far more seriously. Once again, the plot of this instalment tackles the grittier side of war - the parts Vera Lynn didn't sing about - the effects on the mental and physical health of those involved and those who saw only an opportunity to profit from the misery of others.
Late 1940 was a bleak time for Britain and for London in particular. Whilst the glitz and glamour of the ballroom is still there, much of the action now takes place far beyond its confines. Yes, the ballroom still provides the beating heart that binds everyone together, but its principal characters are spread far and wide.
What I've realised as the series has progressed, is that whilst it's ostensibly about ballroom dancers and their friends, what actually underpins absolutely everything in the story as a whole, is love. There is romance, but not only is it never of the frivolous variety, it's actually by far the least important kind of love. Love of family, friends, home and life all outweigh romantic attachments and this can be seen in every sub-plot. When one character is forced to choose between romance and 'family' there's never any doubt which will triumph. What I also love about this series is that where the romance elements do come in, there is usually something which gives it an extra level of interest or depth - there are characters with disabilities, multi-racial relationships, relationships which span deep class divides and love found later in life.
At the centre of it all, are Raymond and Nancy. They have their own personal battles to fight, but they draw their strength from each other in a way that steps beyond the pages of a book. Theirs is a model marriage - not perfect by any means - but based on mutual respect and understanding. Even when their lives are in turmoil, it doesn't take much for them to remember what truly matters to them.
This series gets better and better with each book; characters move in and out of focus as times change and people move on, but there's always a sense that these relationships are there in the background just waiting for their turn in the spotlight.
I'm not usually a fan of the 'celebrity' author, but I adore this series and look forward to each new addition to it.
Bring on 1941!
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to review an Advanced Copy.