In a lonely cottage on a deserted stretch of shore, a moment of tragedy between lovers becomes a horrific murder. And two women who should never have met are connected for ever.
Six years after the end of the Great War, a nation is still in mourning. Thousands of husbands, fathers, sons and sweethearts were lost in Europe; millions more came back wounded and permanently damaged.
Beatrice Cade is an orphan, unmarried and childless – and given the dearth of men, likely to remain that way. London is full of women like her: not wives, not widows, not mothers. There is no name for these invisible women, and no place for their grief.
Determined to carve out a richer and more fulfilling way to live as a single woman, Bea takes a room in a Bloomsbury ladies’ club and a job in the City. Then a fleeting encounter changes everything. Bea’s emerging independence is shattered when she falls in love for the first time.
Kate Ryan is an ordinary wife and mother who has managed to build an enviable life with her handsome husband and her daughter. To anyone looking in from the outside, they seem like a normal, happy family – until two policemen knock on her door one morning and threaten to destroy the facade Kate has created.
Mesmerizing, haunting and utterly remarkable, Other Women is a devastating story of fantasy, obsession and shame. It explores the depths of desire and self-deception, and the things we will do to protect what we love.
“On the days when she knew he had appointments in London and might therefore drop into the office, Bea was quite unable to concentrate. Her gaze moved in quick direct lines from the paper in her typewriter to the door, skittering over the blotter, the paste- pot, the box of pencils, then back to the letter she was typing.”
CRITICAL ACCLAIM FOR OTHER WOMEN
“A glittering black diamond of a book. Beautiful and devastating literary true crime. Flint takes a real murder case from the 1920’s and gives voice to the women involved. Bubbling anger beneath exquisite prose.”
Anna Mazzola, author of The Clockwork Girl
Just finished Other Women by Emma Flint. A breathtaking story of love, secrets, desire, tragedy and shame in post-war Britain. I was immersed from the first page to the last. Muriel Spark and Patricia Highsmith vibes. Stylish, moody, exciting, rich and incredibly moving. EXQUISITE.”
Will Dean, author of The Last Thing to Burn
I loved Little Deaths by Emma Flint, and have been keen anticipating Other Women, her second novel. It is brilliant. I’ve been swept up in a turmoil of emotion reading this, a book that starts as a love story and turns into something much darker indeed. Hard to think of a book that’s evoked such a strong response in me for ages. Set in 1923–1924, based on a real case, the RAGE I have that misogyny and double standards are still in the same place even 100 years later. I am really blown away by this.
Harriet Tyce, author of It Ends at Midnight
Listen to a sample of OTHER WOMEN
“As a freezing January gave way to a damp February, they spent their evenings sitting close and warm in cheerful pubs, stretching out the evening with whisky for him and sherry for her, letting the fiery sweetness sink down, letting it spread and burn. At a certain point in the evening, Tom would catch her eye and his hand would tighten over hers.”
“I look at the exhibits that are laid out on the table at the centre of the courtroom: the trunk, the hat box, saucepans, a saw, a knife.”
From true crime to fiction
Other Women was inspired by the true story of Emily Beilby Kaye, who was murdered by her married lover, Herbert Patrick Mahon, on or about April 15th, 1924.
The case was huge in England at the time: it was a journalist’s dream, involving a brutal murder, a clandestine love affair, an illegitimate pregnancy – and, at the heart of it, a handsome and charismatic family man who was leading a secret double life.
When I first read about the case around twenty years ago, I wondered why most accounts focused more on the killer than on his victims. And I wondered about the terror his victims must have felt when they realised what lay behind his charming appearance.
While I was writing Other Women, I saw a documentary about the American serial killer Ted Bundy – another attractive, charismatic man who led an appalling double life, and who fascinated the media and the popular imagination. Bundy killed beautiful women in their late teens and early twenties. At his trial, the courtroom was filled with young women who looked just like the photographs of those he had killed – women who could have been his victims. This fascination interested and unnerved me – what made these women come to his trial day after day, week after week? Watching this documentary reminded me of the account of the case I’d read years before – and when I went back to it, I saw the same kind of fascination with evil. In 1924, women from all areas of society queued for seats in the courtroom to watch the killer give evidence. They stood for hours outside the cottage where the murder had happened, and they paid the policemen on duty to let them pick flowers from the cottage garden as souvenirs.
This kind of fascination was one of the initial inspirations for Other Women. I wanted to explore why we are so drawn to evil, especially when it appears behind a handsome mask. Why do we want to be near it, and why do we want to examine it so closely, when we know it has the potential to harm us?
I don’t have any easy answers to this, but perhaps one answer lies in the fairy tale belief that beauty equals goodness. This maxim is usually applied to women, but Mahon and Bundy – conventionally attractive men – seemed to have no trouble attracting admirers who believed their stories even when the extent of their crimes were revealed.
Perhaps it also lies in a stubborn determination to hope that men like these are just misunderstood. A belief that if they’d just met the right woman, she might have saved them from a life of murder and mayhem. Or a belief that if they met the right woman after their arrest, she might still save them from damnation, by encouraging to express remorse and ask for forgiveness.
Whatever the truth of it, it seems that the burden of responsibility – a responsibility to believe in this man’s goodness, despite all the evidence to the contrary, or a responsibility to somehow save him for himself – still lies with the women in his life.
Giving Victims a Voice
When I started writing Other Women, I was in my early forties. I was single and financially independent, with a career I loved, friends, hobbies, ambitions, dreams. The woman who inspired the character of Beatrice Cade was around my age and she had all these things too – yet she risked every one of them for a relationship with a man she knew was married and unavailable.
I think at the heart of every novel is a question that the writer wants to explore (What would happen if…? How would it feel to…?) – for me, the initial question was: Why would this intelligent, middle-aged, respectable woman – who had so much in her life that was positive and good – risk everything that mattered to her for a man who was already married?
As I wrote the novel, I came to relate to Bea even more strongly – like me, she moved to London from the north of England seeking a different kind of life from the one she had grown up expecting to lead. She was ambitious and independent. She was unmarried and childless (and given the shortage of men in the years after the First World War, she seemed likely to remain that way) – but she set out to make a different kind of life for herself. I admired that, and I admired her courage in moving hundreds of miles from her home town at a time when that was fairly unusual.
Bea had a rich and happy life. She had people who cared for her, people who would miss her when she waas dead. Other Women was born from a fury that the life she created for herself could be so entirely destroyed, and from a determination that she would not be forgotten.
The man I fictionalise as Tom Ryan got newspaper headlines, hours of courtroom time, people prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt – and one hundred years later, it’s still too often the male perpetrators of abuse that news report focus on; it’s their stories that we read.
Mahon was found guilty of the murder of Emily Kaye a century ago, but violence against women by the men who are closest to them continues to be a global problem.
Almost one in three women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime1. It is estimated that three women commit suicide each week in the UK alone as a result of domestic violence2. And 40 per cent of homeless women in the UK state that domestic violence is a contributing factor to their homelessness2.
In 2020, 47,000 women and girls were killed by their partner or by a family member1. This means that on average a woman or girl somewhere in the worldl is killed by someone close to her every eleven minutes. The killers are boyfriends, partners, friends, husbands, fathers, brothers. They are men that these women should be able to trust. They are the very men they should feel safest with.
Other Women is for all those women who never got a chance to tell their stories.
1 Source: https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures
2 Source: https://refuge.org.uk/what-is-domestic-abuse/the-facts/
…she recalled the woman she had been in London: the dresses, the hats and shoes, the trips to the theatre; the silks, the stockings, the nightgowns; the teal- blue scarf of soft peltlike velvet, that she had worn all through 1922, that looked like a summer evening.
“Mrs Bishop holds the brush in both her hands. She is very pale. She bows her head and breathes deeply. I wonder if her sister’s hair is still tangled in the bristles, if she can smell her sister’s perfume. For a moment I almost think she will kiss the handle.”
The 1920s was a time of great social, political and economic change. The world was mourning the loss of almost 20 million military personnel and civilians during World War I, followed by the devastating effects of Spanish Flu which killed 50 million people globally.
In the UK, 8.4 million women (largely wealthy middle-class white women) had obtained the right to vote for the first time in 1918. Many women were coming to terms with the loss of husbands, sons, brothers, fiances. Women who had been raised to assume they would be wives and mothers now found that they had to enter the labour market to support themselves.
January 1924 saw the election of the first Labour government in the UK – but the country was already seeing the effects of falling coal production and wage reductions which would lead to the General Strike of 1926.
Despite these seismic historical events, the image that is often most commonly-associated with the 1920s is that of the Bright Young Things. The 1920s has become synonymous with short fringed dresses, bobbed hair, cocktails and Charleston dancing. In reality, these tropes bore as much resemblance to the lives of most people as the cast of TOWIE have with the lives of the majority of us today.
In Other Women, I wanted to write about what it was like to live through this period without the insulation of wealth, youth, beauty or fame. I wanted to write about what was it like to be heading towards middle age in a period of high unemployment, with no financial protection or job security. What it was like to be a woman who had grown up expecting to marry and bear children, only to find that the war had taken a generation of eligible men. And what it was like to be unmarried and pregnant with all the stigma and shame that involved, but without the protection of a welfare state or a National Health Service.
“…The darting silver girls were for noticing, for flirting with and tipping hats to, while the older women were wives and mothers and widows. They had made sacrifices. They had earned the deference of Madam.
And besides them, there was a third type of woman: less visible and less noticed, and neither one thing nor another. These women were Misses without youth, middle- aged without wedding rings. They held fast to the banks of the river, avoiding the current, clustering together in the cool green shade.
Bea was one of these other women.”