"The Paying Guests" (Riverhead), by Sarah Waters
Fans of Sarah Waters will feel cloaked in comfy familiarity when they sink into her new novel, "The Paying Guests."
The setting is London, 1922. The post-war economy forces upper-class Frances, a single woman in her late 20s, and her mother to begrudgingly take in lodgers. The book opens with the arrival of newlyweds Len and Lilian Barber, who are solidly middle-class.
"What on earth had she done? She felt as though she was opening up the house to thieves and invaders," she writes.
While the plot initially explores the differences in social classes, it quickly becomes much more.
Frances finds herself immediately attracted to Lilian, while Lilian's husband, Len, shamelessly flirts with Frances. Then Frances kisses Lilian.
"The kiss was perfectly lifeless, for a second or two. It was cool and dry and chaste, the sort of kiss one might give to a child. ... They held the kiss, chaste as it was, until, by their very holding of it, it became unchaste."
In true Waters' style, "The Paying Guests" is filled with romance and sex, suspense and deceit. Her prose is as strong as ever. She brings her characters and her settings to remarkable life and it's easy to disappear into her version of London's Champion Hill neighborhood — dirt and grime and all.