Gladys and Annie are elderly sisters living in two rooms in one half of a pair of dilapidated cottages in a quiet back street of London. Annie is bedridden while Gladys attends church and cleans at a local Cypriot café. Above them in the attic lives Mr Fisher – who changes his name once a month and is now nearing ninety. The Simms family who live downstairs leave when the cottages are sold to a local ‘rackman’ – the sale plunges the inhabitants of the house into fear. Gladys immediately turns to the vicar for advice, and it is in this way that the Curate Gerald Corliss and the Vicar Mr Geddes first become involved with the inhabitants of the cottages in Rose Walk. The dreaded rackman Mr Pearson moves his wife and her young German au pair into the vacant flat – Mrs Pearson is a fragile faded beauty suffering from an unspecified illness. Mrs Pearson has her part of the cottages done up a bit, and soon the residents of the cottages settle down nicely together. However Mrs Pearson describes herself as a medium, and appears to be possessed by some sort of evil spirit. The story of Mrs Pearson’s possession makes for a quite a chilling climax to the story, as the clergy gather to rid her of the spirit.
Mrs Pearson’s daughter, Peggy, meanwhile gets herself a job as a companion to an elderly wealthy woman, who has four little dogs, called A, Bee, Cee and Dee. Animal lover Peggy, is nursing her own sorrow, and quickly comes to the notice of her employer’s slightly oily middle aged son.
One of the things which came across mostly strongly for me in this novel is the descriptions and sense of time and place. The run down streets of London still scarred by the war twenty years earlier, the sad little rooms inhabited by Gladys and Annie, the empty church on a dark and windy evening are all beautifully evoked. Each character is well drawn – their voices distinct and strong. Although there is much in this novel that is dark, the narrative is shot through with poignant humour too. Stella Gibbons was obviously a wonderful observer of human beings, and the places they inhabit.