A beautifully written and evocative novel—the story of an impossible, unstoppable love affair set in London during World War II and the present day
An accomplished novel from a talented writer, Letters to the Lost is the kind of love story that will sweep you away from the very first page. Iona Grey’s prose is warm, evocative, and immediately engaging; her characters become so real you can’t bear to let them go.
Late on a frozen February evening, a young woman is running through the streets of London. Having fled from her abusive boyfriend and with nowhere to go, Jess stumbles onto a forgotten lane where a small, clearly unlived in old house offers her best chance of shelter for the night. The next morning, a mysterious letter arrives and when she can’t help but open it, she finds herself drawn inexorably into the story of two lovers from another time.
In London 1942, Stella meets Dan, a US airman, quite by accident, but there is no denying the impossible, unstoppable love that draws them together. Dan is a B-17 pilot flying his bomber into Europe from a British airbase; his odds of survival at one in five. The odds are stacked against the pair; the one thing they hold onto is the letters they write to each other. Fate is unkind and they are separated by decades and continents. In the present, Jess becomes determined to find out what happened to them. Her hope—inspired by a love so powerful it spans a lifetime—will lead her to find a startling redemption in her own life in a powerfully moving novel perfect for fans of Sarah Jio and Kate Morton.
London, February 2011
It was a nice part of London. Respectable. Affluent. The shops that lined the street in the villagey center were closed and shuttered but you could tell they were posh, and there were restaurants—so many restaurants—their windows lit up like wide-screen TVs showing the people inside. People who were too well-mannered to turn and gawp at the girl running past on the street outside.
Not running for fitness, wearing Lycra and headphones and a focused expression, but messily, desperately, with her short skirt riding up to her knickers and her unshod feet splashing through the greasy puddles on the pavement. She’d kicked off her stupid shoes as she left the pub, knowing she wouldn’t get far wearing them. Platform stilettos; the twenty-first-century equivalent of a ball and chain.
At the corner she hesitated, chest heaving. Across the road was a row of shops with an alleyway at the side; behind, the pounding echo of feet. She ran again, seeking out the dark. There was a backyard with bins. A security light exploded above her, glittering on broken glass and ragged bushes beyond a high wooden gate. She let herself through, wincing and whimpering as the ground beneath her feet changed from hard tarmac to oozing earth that seeped through her sodden tights. Up ahead there was the glimmer of a streetlight. It gave her something to head toward; she pushed aside branches and emerged into a narrow lane.
It was flanked on one side by garages and the backs of houses, and by a row of plain terraced cottages on the other. She swung round, her heart battering against her ribs. If he followed her down here there would be nowhere to hide. No one to see. The windows of the houses glowed behind closed curtains, like slumbering eyes. Briefly she considered knocking on the door of one of the small cottages and throwing herself on the mercy of the people inside, but realizing how she must look in her clinging dress and stage makeup she dismissed the idea and stumbled on.
The last house in the little terrace was in darkness. As she got closer she could see that its front garden was overgrown and neglected, with weeds growing halfway up the peeling front door and a forest of shrubbery encroaching upon it from the side. The windows were blank and black. They swallowed up her reflection in their filth-furred glass.
She heard it again, the beat of running feet, coming closer. What if he’d got the others to look for her too? What if they came from the opposite direction, surrounding her and leaving no escape? For a moment she froze, and then adrenaline squirted, hot and stinging, galvanizing her into movement. With nowhere else to go she slipped along the side of the end house, between the wall and the tangle of foliage. Panic made her push forward, tripping over branches, gagging on the feral, unfamiliar stink. Something shot out from beneath the hedge at her feet, so close that she felt rough fur brush briefly against her shin. Recoiling, she tripped. Her ankle was wrenched round and a hot shaft of pain shot up her leg.
She sat on the damp ground and gripped her ankle hard, as if she could squash the pain back in to where it had come from. Tears sprang to her eyes, but at that moment she heard footsteps and a single angry shout from the front of the house. She clenched her teeth, picturing Dodge beneath the streetlamp, hands on his hips as he swung around searching for her, his face wearing that particular belligerent expression—jaw jutting, eyes narrowed—that it did when he was thwarted.
Holding her breath, she strained to listen. The seconds stretched and quivered with tension, until at last she picked up the sound of his receding feet. The air rushed from her lungs and she collapsed forward, limp with relief.
The money crackled inside her pocket. Fifty pounds—she’d only taken her share, not what was due to the rest of the band, but he wouldn’t like it: he made the bookings, he took the money. She slid a hand into her pocket to touch the waxy, well-used notes, and a tiny ember of triumph glowed in her heart.
About the author
Iona Grey has a degree in English Literature and Language from Manchester University, an obsession with history and an enduring fascination with the lives of women in the twentieth century. She lives in rural Cheshire with her husband and three daughters.