Martha’s Revenge - Synopsis
Martha’s Revenge begins where Martha is pretending to have lost her memory after Dolly attacked her. She is finding playing the ‘angelic younger sister’ a strain but this is compensated by the adrenaline rush that she gets when she murders her next victim, Mrs Browne. This is so addictive she looks out for another victim and settles on Mr Gray, the inoffensive but rather weak printer who made such a mess of her advertising leaflets.
Martha and Daniel’s mother, Edith, falls ill as she pays for all the years she spent working in the damp laundry in the cold and wet. She dies and her husband Bob is devastated, as is Daniel. Martha doesn’t feel anything at the loss of her mother other than irritation at her failure to protect her children from the cruelty of their grandparents.
Georgie hero worships Daniel who rescued him from the work house and has been almost a father figure to him since he came to live in York Street with them. Dolly, a fat and unattractive older woman, was also taken in by Daniel and she adores him for being so kind to her. Her head is stuffed with Irish folk tales which she learnt from her Irish grandmother, as well as the conviction that she can see the kindness or cruelty in other people’s auras. Daniel is the innocent in this, as he believes that Martha has reformed and is the delightful sister he always hoped she was.
Both Georgie and Dolly want to protect Daniel as they know he would be devastated by proof of Martha’s wickedness and they both know that he won’t help them to trap her. When the printer dies, strangled during the night by an ‘unknown’ killer, they realise that they could be next on her list and start to plan how they are going to trap her.
Daniel finds Frank Jackson, a twelve-year-old boy who has an alcoholic mother and younger siblings and has lost his father to the War, who is taken on as a shop boy to help Martha. Frank initially thinks that Martha is a wonderful person but, the more he sees of her behaviour in the shop, the more he realises how wicked and cruel she actually is. He mentions his concerns over Martha’s behaviour to Dolly and she recruits him as a spy in the shop. Martha moves on to another victim, murdering old Mrs Jessop in her own kitchen. Frank is now frightened of Martha and glad that he took his concerns to Dolly.
Lucy Renwick, who Martha blackmailed over her affair with the married David Dundas, has sunk very low in the world. Jobless and living in one room which she can’t afford, she spends her days looking for work, walking up to Normanby every day and then home again, still jobless. Mr Wilfred Chambers owns the manor house which faces Normanby Road and he watches Lucy every day. He has been invalided out of the Army and he wants to open a market garden on the land which surrounds his house, so that he can provide work and wages for those soldiers who have lost limbs to the War, or to the families of those soldiers who gave their lives in service to their country. He goes to the Baptist Chapel one Sunday morning and sees Lucy and offers her the job of housekeeper and overseer of the garden. He has admired the way that she has never given in or up, despite losing everything and wearing out her shoes walking the streets looking for work. She accepts the job and moves into the manor house where she loses her high-handed attitude and is genuinely loved by the garden workers and their families and the staff of the manor house.
Martha writes a letter to Lucy, admitting to being the person who tried to have her framed for burglary in the pawnbroker’s shop. Lucy comes to the shop to see Martha and they make friends - genuine on Lucy’s part but false on Martha’s part. Frank is told to go home but he is frightened of Martha’s mood and reports to Georgie and Dolly. They decide to keep watch on Martha, even if that means taking turns at staying awake all night in order to see what she does.
Martha has been invited to a garden party at the manor house where she decides to make a play for Mr Chambers, but he has eyes only for Lucy.
Meanwhile, Daniel has fallen in love with Bob Prosser’s daughter and is devastated to learn that Bob is also his father. Their relationship is forbidden which plunges Daniel into a deep depression which worries Georgie and Dolly even more. Daniel is oblivious of all that is happening around him as he is so concerned about his love for Grace.
While at the garden party, Martha took the opportunity of taking an impression of the back door key in order to have it copied. Frank, Dolly and Georgie are convinced by Martha’s behaviour that she has planned on killing Lucy as retribution for the times that Lucy was rude to her in Reed’s shop. That night, when Martha sets off to storm the manor house, Georgie and Dolly follow her, unaware that Frank is following all three of them. Martha is also unaware that Mr Chambers has proposed to Lucy, although Lucy has to decline his offer as she is still married to her husband, the one who threw her out when he learnt of her adultery.
Martha reaches Lucy’s bedroom but doesn’t find Lucy as she is in her parlour next door to her bedroom, reliving Mr Chamber’s proposal. A storm arrives and lightning hits the barns which house the tender plants as well as one of them being a dormitory for the workers. Chaos ensues as they all try to extinguish the fires which result from the lightning strike but the water in the pump runs dry and Lucy goes to try and find an old well at the bottom of the manor’s garden. Martha accosts her there, away from anyone else and attempts to strangle her.SPOILER ALERT - Frank pushes Martha down the well and saves Lucy’s life.
Once the fire has been extinguished, Frank explains everything that happened and produces Martha’s suitcase which she had hidden in the garden. She intended killing Lucy and then escaping to London. She has a letter in the suitcase, stamped and addressed to Daniel which Georgie opens. It contains her confession of Lucy’s (and other) murders and explains she is going to move to a city. She has taken all the money she amassed with her blackmailing.
Lucy, Mr Chambers, Georgie and Dolly decide to use the money to rebuild the barns and extend the garden. They tip the detritus from the fires down the well and then seal it, so Martha’s body is never discovered and they all keep the secret of who killed Martha. The rest of the world, including Daniel, believes that Martha has moved to a big city, so no-one misses her.
This is historical fiction set in Middlesbrough at the time of WW1. It is a gripping story that takes the reader back to the difficulties of life in that period. An enjoyable read.
I only went to school to learn to read. At age 6, I decided I COULD read and promptly left, by the school gate, the same gate which my mother marched me back through 10 minutes later. So I had to spend the next 12 years at school, learning lots of different things, none of which lived up to the excitement of reading. Wanting to be a writer was a natural progression, because there is nothing as exciting as inventing the story yourself. But it's taken over 50 years before I dared to present my stories for other people to read. So, here they are! I'll just creep behind the sofa.