The Birthday House by Jill Treseder


The year is 1955, the location picturesque Devon.

In a house by the River Dart, schoolgirl Josephine Kennedy posts invitations to her twelfth birthday party – a party that never takes place.

Horrific violence is committed that night in the family home, leaving all of its occupants dead. 

Based on a disturbing real-life crime, this compelling story explores Josephine’s fate through the prism of friends and family – the victims and survivors who unwittingly influenced the events that led up to the tragedy.

Josephine’s best friend, Susan, is haunted by the secrets of the birthday house. Can she ever find a way of making peace with the past?


I’m honoured to be closing the blog tour for The Birthday House by Jill Treseder today. My thanks, as always, go to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part.

I first happened upon Jill Treseder last year when I read her novel My Sister, Myself. It was a novel which took me by surprise and I really enjoyed Jill’s engaging writing style and her wonderful storytelling ability.

Her latest, The Birthday House is a dinky novella of 150 pages, but whilst it’s short in length, it definitely doesn’t shy away from creating an impact. It is most definitely not an easy, fluffy read. It’s a hard hitting and highly emotive examination of a real-life crime, although the characters are fictional, the crime itself actually happened.

The novella feels like an investigation and an ordering of thoughts on behalf of Susan, the little girl whose best friend, Josephine was murdered in her own home. Susan finds out years after the event and there is a sense of helpless sadness which emanates from her character. Each chapter is from the point of view of another character, which allows the reader to piece together what lead up to and what happened that night from differing perspectives.

I really enjoyed this method of relaying the story, although I did find that I struggled to connect emotionally with both Pamela (the mother – although this was more to do with the style of narration) and strangely with Susan herself. This really surprised me, particularly after reading the afterword. With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve wondered why? Susan is open with the reader about her thoughts and feelings around the incident, and also about her friendship with Josephine. But I didn’t really get a sense of who she was away from the tragedy and beyond. Perhaps that is purposeful and one of the far-reaching consequences of that fatal night and the decisions made for her afterwards; but I felt I wanted to strip her back and discover who she became. It felt somehow guarded in some respects.

That said however, the chapters told through Josephine and Harold’s eyes are incredibly haunting and masterfully told. The characterisations are perfection, and the writing just wonderful. I had actual goosebumps as I read them and they will stay with me for quite some time.

The fact that this is based on a real life crime creates intrigue, and I was shocked that when I addressed Madam Google, the search yielded no results as to the real life perpetrator. Instead the person was almost revered for their role in their business. This further intrigued me. Time may have passed, but the impact of such a heinous crime should not.

For lovers of real life crime, this is a short read which packs quite the punch!

About the Author

I started writing in a red shiny exercise book when I was seven years old. But in that time and place it was an ‘invalid’ activity, was overlooked, but never went away. It was many years before I felt able to call myself ‘writer’.

But there came a day when the phrase ‘I am a writer’ no longer sounded pretentious, but legitimate, and even necessary. Was it because I had a writing room instead of the corner of a landing? Or because I spent more time writing? Or because I’d got better at it? Or because I get miserable and bad-tempered if I don’t write? Probably a combination of all of the above.

Writing is my third career. The first was as a social worker with children and families, a job I loved, but left because I could no longer cope with the system.

This led to a freelance career as an independent management consultant, helping people to handle emotions in the work context. I worked in the IT industry, in companies large and small, as well as public organisations. Later I became involved in research projects concerned with the multi-disciplinary approach to social problems such as child abuse. So, in a sense, I had come full-circle.

All these experiences feed into the process of writing fiction, while my non-fiction book The Wise Woman Within resulted indirectly from the consultancy work and my subsequent PhD thesis,‘Bridging Incommensurable Paradigms’, which is available from the School of Management at the University of Bath.

I live in Devon and visit Cornwall frequently and these land and seascapes are powerful influences which demand a presence in my writing.

Writers’ groups and workshops are a further invaluable source of inspiration and support and I attend various groups locally and sign up for creative courses in stunning locations whenever I can. I try doing writing practice at home but there is no substitute for the focus and discipline achieved among others in a group.

I have written some short stories and recently signed up for a short story writing course to explore this genre in more depth.

I live with my husband in South Devon and enjoy being involved in a lively local community.

Twitter @Jill_Treseder

*I received a copy of The Birthday House as a part of the blog tour. The decision to read and be involved in the blog tour was my own, and the review forms my honest opinion.

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