One Christmas Night opens at 3.08 a.m., Christmas Eve in Newbury Street, Norwich with a thief about to break into one of the houses:
The thief has always loved the thick silence that comes at this very specific time in the early hours, when nearly everybody’s asleep and everything looks like a child’s drawing of night-time.
The thief pinches everything, presents, the Christmas food in the fridge and even the gingerbread made by the children. At a time when most people are filled with the joy of sharing and giving, the street turns in on itself with everyone suspecting each other even close loved ones.
The story is told from the point of view of nine characters in the present over Christmas Eve and leading up to midday Christmas Day: Sisters Joanie and Tash Blake, recently bereaved Wendy Finch, pub landlady Sue Winters, well-off Cynthia Ellis, pub employee Irma Wozniak, divorced Craig Mullany and Frank Blake who took up with Craig’s ex wife Jen. The investigating officer is DC Lucy Crane.
Festive spirit is being replaced with suspicion and the inhabitants of Newbury Street don’t know who to trust. The police presence isn’t helping matters, especially when they all have something to hide.
9.13 a.m. Christmas Eve, Kind-hearted Joanie Blake finds Mr Finch, an old man who has collapsed and is dying on the street in the cold and the rain. Joanie cannot help but think of her mother, Allie who has recently died from cancer.
9.40am. When Tash Blake, who works in the local Stop Shop, hears the sirens, she runs from the shop thinking something has happened to her sister, Joanie. The two sisters decide to invite Mr Finch’s wife, Wendy over for Christmas so she won’t be on her own. Inside the flat Joanie witnesses the old couple’s struggle with poverty. Wendy is not quite ‘malnourished’ but she will fit a size eight pyjama.
10.14am. DC Crane, and her sidekick DC Ado, interview the victims, Jen and Frank who were burgled. They discover that Jen used to be married to Craig and he has just moved into a new house a few doors up. They wonder if being that close to his ex means he stalking his ex-wife. And he is not the only potential stalker.
Somehow it’s turned into something she never meant it to be. She knows it must stop. How would Joanie feel if she knew? Five times is still five times too many. People deserve their privacy, and their safety and to not be watched when they don’t know they’re being watched.
Hour after hour, this Christmas story unravels itself. Crime, passion and through each chapter the festive spirit: booze, food, rituals and fun. There are stories within stories and as the book moves forward we get to understand the motivation behind the characters’ actions. Christmas can be one of the most emotive times of the year. Families are supposed to come together, swop presents, be happy, eat and then get on with their lives. But in Newbury Street, people are emotionally stuck in the lead up to Christmas Day. A pair of potential lovers can’t seem to get past first gear, new lovers are wracked with guilt from previous relationships, children are mourning, there are abusive relationships and an expert portrayal of gaslighting. There are many types of relationships in the story, friendship, genuine love, long-term partnerships, parental and romantic love. The sadness and joy that Christmas can bring is represented well and as the pages turn, confessions and discoveries lead the characters lives towards the joy and beauty of love, acceptance, hope, friendships, and eventually a very merry Christmas.
One Christmas Night has everything I enjoy, mystery, love, complicated relationships and an interesting and clever narrative layout. There was an added bonus as two of the characters are care experienced, one of whom is a main character. The representation is well thought out and believable with a familiar backstory. The attention to minute details is exquisite and beautifully written. This is definitely one of those books to curl up with this Christmas on the settee with blanket, chocolate and hot toddy or hot water bottle.
Hayley Webster is a writer and teacher who grew up in Newbury, Berkshire. Her first novel, Jar Baby, was published by Dexter Haven in 2012 and, as Hayley Scott, three books in her Teacup House series for emerging readers were published by Usborne in 2018. She has written for Grazia, The Observer Magazine, and did a sold-out event at Edinburgh festival in 2018. She’s a mentor on the 2019 National Writers Centre Escalator scheme and she lives in Norfolk with her daughter.
Published by Trapeze
Follow Hayley on Twitter: @HayleyThough