This Time Of Dying

Reina James

Published: 12 April 2007
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 240 pages
ISBN: 9781846270468


It is October 1918 and London is gathering in its dead. For Henry Speake, of Speake & Son Undertakers, laying to rest the shattered young bodies of those sent home from the Front to die has become a grimly familiar duty. But what he is seeing now, as influenza claims its victims with increasing speed and force, is something different, and for the first time in his life, Henry feels afraid of death. Unable to share his fears with his waspish, disapproving sisters, Henry turns instead to Mrs Allen Thompson, a recently widowed school teacher, so beginning a friendship which gradually, stumblingly, pulls them in a direction neither is prepared for.

About the author

Image of Reina James

Reina James is the author of This Time of Dying and The Old Joke. She lives in Sussex with her husband. More about the author


‘Grim but compelling reading...There is a grainy, sepia-like feel to the story, a monochrome effect that seems appropriate to the setting. The appalling fate of so many grimly detailed and well-researched.’



‘James graphically describes a plague that wiped out families and overwhelmed the war-weakened infrastructure. However, the true terrain of the novelist is arguably the response of her characters to their afflictions. Here, James's isolated protagonists prepare the ground admirably for their individual witness and response to the calamity. A finely written and affecting novel.’ Rachel Hore

‘James skilfully conveys the suppressed panic and claustrophobia induced by the sudden and deadly prevalence of the disease. Yet members of the local community still find time to disapprove of [Henry and Allen] for their association. This is a muted but moving novel about the persistence of the ordinary during extraordinary times.’

‘Literary rewards can be found in the unlikeliest places. Take, for example, London in the year 1918, where a deeply-repressed undertaker is struggling to cope with a huge increase in his workload. Henry Speake not only has to deal with the grievously injured young soldiers sent home from the front lines to die, but also contend with a deadly outbreak of influenza. Hardly the most uplifting of subjects; but in Reina James's sensitive hands it becomes surprisingly enjoyable... Henry's hesitant friendship with a local widow slowly begins to blossom and... as their relationship develops, James leads them and her readers into unexpectedly rewarding territory.’

‘Rich and absorbing ... a five-star weepie’

‘The novel is fascinating, as James uses small, filmic scenes to build an overall picture of the fear and chaos in a London reeling from World War I, where the presence of death in unknown and uncontrollable forms was a terrifying reality.’

‘This author is the daughter of the great Sid James, but there is not a hint of Carry On about her first novel. It is a rich and absorbing story about the 1918 epidemic of Spanish influenza. Henry Speake is a young undertaker, rather cowed by his scary band of sisters. He has coped with mangled bodies sent home from the trenches but is overwhelmed by the dreadful power of the epidemic. In his state of fear and uncertainty he is drawn into a relationship with a schoolteacher who has been recently widowed. A five-star weepie.’ Kate Saunders

‘This restrained and unnerving novel gains strength like the virus it describes... As the crisis peaks, class expectations crumble and an unlikely love story develops... James registers the tiny details of suffering and the book ends almost like a fever breaking, showing that such a scourge can randomly take anything in its path, leaving behind misery, but also human dignity.’

‘Unusual and compelling, strangely engrossing... Reina James has researched the period fastidiously but she carries her knowledge lightly. Her style is clean, clear and laconic, yet such is the strength of her characterisation that the protagonists' secret fears and forlorn hopes take possession of the reader's imagination and inhabit it to the exclusion of all else.’ Sue Gaisford

‘Written in deceptively plain and unsentimental prose, the novel is sophisticated in structure. The author manages to dip into many different characters' heads to paint an intimate portrait of how the flu impacts an entire community already decimated by war: from the elderly doctor who cannot live up to the weight of his duties, to Henry's 'masculine' sister, seething in resentment because she believes she could run the family business more competently than her distracted brother. Despite its macabre subject matter, a highly compelling and recommended read.’

Mind Unit - websites, content management and email marketing for the arts