It’s the summer of 1976 and there’s a heatwave in England. Strange things happen in heatwaves and inside Liverpool’s oldest and largest railway station, Lime Street, Martha’s life starts to spin out of control. Will her cake-wielding best friend, a Roman centurion and a phantom fisher in a bowler hat be able to help her before everything’s as lost as Martha?
Liverpool, 1976: Martha is lost.
She’s been lost since she was a baby, abandoned in a suitcase on the train from Paris. Ever since, she’s waited in lost property for someone to claim her. It’s been sixteen years, but she’s still hopeful.
Meanwhile, there are lost property mysteries to solve: a suitcase that may have belonged to the Beatles, a stuffed monkey that keeps appearing. But there is one mystery Martha has never been able to solve – and now time is running out. If Martha can’t discover who she really is, she will lose everything…
When I discovered that The Finding of Martha Lost was set in Liverpool’s main rail terminus, I was excited to read it. Probably because I’ve never had to use them for my daily commute, I’ve always found train stations to be pretty exciting places. A large station always feels like a whole world unto itself, ripe for people-watching and full of stories; people meet up or part ways at the beginning or end of a journey, or while passing through on the way elsewhere. Think about all the (possible) human connections, those made accidentally or on purpose, some fleeting, others destined to be more lasting, and those which are completely missed out on. Caroline Wallace gives us a wonderful glimpse into these lives, of some of the people using Lime Street Station, through the things they forget or discard and which eventually make their way into Martha’s hands in the lost property office. For Martha has a special talent when it comes to lost things and it’s one which can be quite revealing.
Martha is a magical character; she’s charming and winsome, kind and friendly, wise beyond her years in some ways but naive about others. She’s eccentric with her daily spinning around the station concourse, and resolutely cheerful despite a soul-crushing life with Mother. Martha shares with her creator, the author, a gift for seeing the beauty in the everyday, the quirkiness and fun, and the wonder of books: how the stories behind certain ones are every bit as important as those within their pages. Understandably, she has a library befitting such a literary heroine. Martha separates her life out into the parts of a fairytale and, as with every fairytale, there’s a dark side and a curse. Only ever having known Lime Street Station as her home, Mother’s convinced her that if she ever leaves, the station and everything in it will crumble.
While we get a sense of some rail passengers through their lost property, Martha’s immediate world is populated by those who work or more regularly spend time in Lime Street Station: the coffee bar owner, the lady in the kiosk, the postie, the concourse cleaner, the tour guide and the homeless all feature in her life, some more than others. It’s interesting to watch as Martha forges friendships and a family of her own.
Along with the mysteries that find their way onto the shelves of the lost property office, there are two that propel this book forward: the first is that of Martha herself, where she comes from, and who she belongs to. When packages starts arriving for her at the lost property office, and she starts posting questions around the station, it seems as if she might finally get some answers. Hopefully in time to hold off the authorities closing in on her. The other mystery is based on a real life instance of a suitcase belonging to Beatles roadie Mal Evans thought to contain memorabilia. Mal’s case has found its way back to the birthplace of the Beatles but is adrift in the city’s largest station and Martha’s help is enlisted in the search.
I read and loved The Finding of Martha Lost when it came out in hardback last year, so I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for this gorgeous novel which is out today in paperback. Even if I’d never read anything else by Caroline Wallace, I would have been drawn to this story of a girl abandoned as a baby in a train station, who grows up in the Lost Property Office. But having loved some of the author’s other books, I knew she’d find magic in the world she creates and what a love letter she writes to Liverpool.
The Finding of Martha Lost is a darkly wonderful modern fairytale filled with misplaced belongings and people, either searching for a way home or making the best of a new one. Martha may be lost but I found her mesmerising and hard to resist going for a spin in her world. Especially when there’s so much cake.
The Finding of Martha Lost by Caroline Wallace is out now in paperback and is published by Black Swan, a Transworld imprint. It is also available as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback. You can buy it from Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Waterstones and Wordery. (Click on any of the links and you’ll be taken to the book’s page for that site.)
Caroline Wallace has published other novels, including Like Honey to Bees which I reviewed here and The Drowning of Arthur Braxton, writing as Caroline Smailes. You can find out more about Caroline through her Author Website, on Instagram or on Twitter.