Diamonds in the Dust

Written by Beryl Matthews
Review by Alan Cassady-Bishop

Dora, Tom and Lily Bentley are worried when their mother doesn’t return as usual from her night shift. A widow who has raised her children with love and respectability, her non-appearance at the breakfast table is unprecedented. Seventeen-year-old Dora goes to the factory where her mother worked, dreading an accident and confronted with a deeper mystery – they’d never employed a Mrs Bentley and they don’t have a nightshift! Worried about what to do, they turn to neighbour Stan Crawford; as an ex-policeman, he might be able to advise them. At first they don’t want to involve the police and risk going into care. But as the days pass with no sign of their mother, Dora and Tom take on the mammoth responsibility of keeping the family together while the search continues.

The Bentleys must face adult problems, with dwindling savings and the constant worry about their mother. Stan takes on the task of searching as recovery from his wounding in the Great War, using his contacts with the local police and develops a deep friendship with the Bentleys, especially Dora. Stan starts to worry; he must decide how much he should tell the children without tearing them apart.

Written with clear and concise language, this mild romance seems to be aimed at the young adult market – imagine The Railway Children set in Kilburn in the 1920s. The emerging solution to the mystery becomes pretty obvious. All the characters introduced become useful allies to the unnaturally mature children who seem to speak and act ten years older than they are. Mention must be made of the cover: the inappropriate soft-focus stock portrait of a young Victorian millworker.