The Birthday House by Jill Treseder #BookReview #BlogTour

The year is 1955, the location picturesque Devon.

In a house by the River Dart, schoolgirl Josephine Kennedy posts invitations to her twelfth birthday party – a party that never takes place.
Horrific violence is committed that night in the family home, leaving all of its occupants dead.
Based on a disturbing real-life crime, this compelling story explores Josephine’s fate through the prism of friends and family – the victims and survivors who unwittingly influenced the events that led up to the tragedy.
Josephine’s best friend, Susan, is haunted by the secrets of the birthday house. Can she ever find a way of making peace with the past?

After loving My Sister, Myself by Jill Treseder last year I was delighted to be given the opportunity to read The Birthay House and it' such a pleasure to be hosting the blog tour today. Many thanks to Jill Treseder, Silverwood Books and Anne Cater for inviting me and for the digital copy of the novella.

The Birthday House is fiction inspired by a real-life murder-suicide; on 11th October 1955, the co-director of Dartmouth Pottery murdered his wife, Patricia, twelve-year-old daughter, Christine and their dog, Rusty before taking his own life. Jill Treseder was friends with Christine and she wrote this novella as a way to lay some ghosts to rest and to explore why a loving husband and father might suddenly kill his entire family, and then himself.
The book opens in 2018 as Susan wonders what would have happened if her best friend hadn't been murdered by her father. It's immediately - and understandably - obvious that this tragic event has overshadowed her whole life. She has never trusted a man enough to marry or even have a long-term relationship with, she can't sleep at night without putting into place all the locks, bolts and alarms she uses to give her some semblance of security, and perhaps most poignantly, she has guarded against her own emotions so much that she is unable to cry. Her issues with trust also stem from her parents decision to hide the true facts about the deaths of Josephine and her family from her and she feels that the right to be in direct control of her life was stolen from her. Now retired from her career in forensics, she recognises that this one event has always obsessed her and although she has since learned what happened and how, she is still left with the question of why he did it.
Although a shocking crime lies at the centre of the book this is not a thriller but rather an exploration of the circumstances which led to the tragedy and a reflection of the effect of the deaths on those left behind. Chapters are written from a number of perspectives and are set both before, immediately after and many years since Harold Kennedy's horrifying final acts. Knowing what is destined to occur casts a sad inevitability over the story and I found the chapters written from Josephine and Pamela's viewpoints particularly affecting. It becomes evident that Harold was a controlling, volatile man and though his daughter clearly adored him, she was also astutely aware of his moods and even though still young, had learned to modify her own behaviour accordingly - something which is picked up by Susan when she visits her friend's house.
It's his influence on Pamela which is perhaps especially notable, however. She met him when she was a nurse and he was recovering from the meningitis which almost killed him. They fell in love but he is a mercurial husband, still affected both physically and mentally by his illness and as such, his overbearing dependence on his wife has resulted in her losing the essence of who she once was. She has the opportunity to rediscover her inner self and although her actions are open to criticism, it's hard to condemn her for daring to seek the love and understanding she has been missing in her life.
Of course, regardless of the decisions Pamela and Josephine make, we know what is going to happen. The chapters which finally reveal how and why are beautifully written and give the reader an emotional and disturbing insight into the murders from the perspectives of victim and killer without ever becoming sensational.  The chapters dealing with the aftermath of the deaths are equally as perceptive as Jill Treseder recognises that a tragedy such as this catches many people in its wake, including the woman who made the grim discovery and is deeply and perhaps irrevocably traumatised by what she saw.
Those who loved Pamela and Josephine are forced to try to come to terms with their grief while confronting their own sense of guilt as they question why he did it and whether they could have prevented it or are in some way to blame. As this engrossing and thoughtful novella draws to a close, Susan realises that rather than needing to understand what happened, she can find solace in her memories of Josephine, bittersweet though they may be. Although The Birthday House is a heartbreaking story of a horrific crime so too is it an affirmation of the gift of love and friendship. Despite being short in length, this emotionally complex and immersive novella has real depth. Highly recommended.

The Birthday House is published by Silverwood Books and can be purchased from Amazon.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

I started writing in a red shiny exercise book when I was seven years old. But in that time and place it was an ‘invalid’ activity, was overlooked, but never went away. It was many years before I felt able to call myself ‘writer’.
But there came a day when the phrase ‘I am a writer’ no longer sounded pretentious, but legitimate, and even necessary. Was it because I had a writing room instead of the corner of a landing? Or because I spent more time writing? Or because I’d got better at it? Or because I get miserable and bad-tempered if I don’t write? Probably a combination of all of the above.
Writing is my third career. The first was as a social worker with children and families, a job I loved, but left because I could no longer cope with the system.
This led to a freelance career as an independent management consultant, helping people to handle emotions in the work context. I worked in the IT industry, in companies large and small, as well as public organisations. Later I became involved in research projects concerned with the multi-disciplinary approach to social problems such as child abuse. So, in a sense, I had come full-circle.
All these experiences feed into the process of writing fiction, while my non-fiction book ‘The Wise Woman Within’ resulted indirectly from the consultancy work and my subsequent PhD thesis,‘Bridging Incommensurable Paradigms’, which is available from the School of Management at the University of Bath.
I live in Devon and visit Cornwall frequently and these land and seascapes are powerful influences which demand a presence in my writing.
Writers’ groups and workshops are a further invaluable source of inspiration and support and I attend various groups locally and sign up for creative courses in stunning locations whenever I can. I try doing writing practice at home but there is no substitute for the focus and discipline achieved among others in a group.
I have written some short stories and recently signed up for a short story writing course to explore this genre in more depth.
I live with my husband in South Devon and enjoy being involved in a lively local community.


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