Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor Michael Joseph, HK$255 Fog, grime, hunger and the stench of cigarettes: London in its inter-war years seeps from the pages of this murder mystery, set among the inhabitants of a run-down square near the diamond markets of Hatton Garden and Holborn, close to the centre of the city. Andrew Taylor's heroine is Lydia, a battered woman married to Marcus Langstone, a repugnant, failing aristocrat. Fleeing the blows from this rising star of the British Union of Fascists, her path takes her to her estranged father's house on Bleeding Heart Square. The square is the focal point for an odd assortment of characters, many of them trapped in a downward spiral from better days. Lydia's father, Captain Ingleby-Lewis, is a drunkard - worse, a fraudster who was pensioned out of the army. Downstairs lives the grasping Mr Fimberry, with his musty collection of books. Looming above, and metaphorically over them, is Joseph Serridge, the landlord, whose wife owned the house until she mysteriously disappeared. Taylor unravels his tale slowly: Lydia is reduced to pawning her rings and trying desperately to fit into a world where she needs to work and her accent stands out like a beacon. With Marcus trying to win her back and some scourge sending raw animal hearts to Serridge, her unlikely confidant is Rory, a down-on-his-luck young journalist. Taylor's writing and his world remind one of George Orwell; of that era when almost everyone hoped war would never visit Europe again and when fascism and communism were real forces. Marcus will stop at nothing to 'protect' his wife, even ordering his fascist bully boys to assault Rory when the pair become too close. The real action lies in the mystery of Miss Penfold: the aunt of Rory's fiancee, who once owned the building in Bleeding Heart Square and whose diary pages turn up throughout the novel as a kind of clue to events. This is not a new device but it works: there is the sense here of an unseen presence, smoking away, reading the pages of this hidden tome as the spinster - seduced by the 'charming' Serridge - travels closer to her end. It is a wonderfully grimy, cold and innovative story that emerges from the coals of this novel. Taylor has crafted a convincing 'of their time' cast of characters. The action builds and, like in any good thriller, it has a sting in the tail. What is even more enjoyable is that Bleeding Heart Square has a character: based on the real Bleeding Heart Yard in London, its closeness and claustrophobia work to bring an immediacy to this fine book.