index.aspxThe debut novel of Phaedra Patrick, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, is in turns poignant, funny, sweet, and hopeful. Arthur is a likable character and his story a good way to while away a few hours on a lazy summer day.

Arthur Pepper is a widow. His wife Miriam died unexpectedly a year ago and his grief has almost crippled him. He gets up at the same time each day, wears the same clothing, and eats at the same time. There is no joy left in his life. He resists and resents efforts made to help him, especially those of his neighbor Bernadette. He has a daughter, Lucy, and a son, Dan, but they aren’t close and neither came to their mother’s funeral.

On the anniversary of Miriam’s death, Arthur has made the decision to pack up her clothes and donate them to charity. With a heavy heart he fills bags with clothing and shoes. Picking up a pair of fur-lined boots he recalls a story about a lost lottery ticket found in a boot. On a whim he checks inside and instead of a lottery ticket he finds a heart-shaped red leather box.

The box is locked and he doesn’t have a key. However, locks were Arthur’s career and he opens the box easily. Inside is a beautiful gold bracelet. Arthur doesn’t remember ever seeing Miriam wear the bracelet and the collection of charms that ring it is an unusual mix.

The bracelet has eight charms: an elephant, flower, book, paint palette, tiger, thimble, heart, and a ring. The detailed design and the emerald in the elephant charm catches his attention. In looking it over he finds a word and a number engraved on it, Ayah 0091 832 221 897. He knows the engraving must be a phone number but how and why did his wife have a charm with the word for nursemaid and a number to a phone in India?

Despite feeling he is snooping on Miriam, Arthur is curious and dials the number. He is stunned to find himself talking to the man who gave her the charm. How could Arthur not know that his wife once lived and worked in India?

What about the other charms? Are they, like the elephant, a link to Miriam’s past? Surprising himself Arthur pursues the story of each charm. In doing so he begins to live again and reconnect to life. His journeys lead him to an odd mix of characters and he discovers a daring and courage he didn’t know he possessed.

Arthur also uncovers a side to his wife he had never experienced causing him to question his marriage and what he meant to Miriam. Can he accept that Miriam kept a part of herself from him and his own culpability in assuming she had nothing to tell?

Arthur’s quest to find the stories of the charms is an emotional journey but one I think you’ll enjoy. It’s easy to follow him through the sadness, yearning, fear and joy as he discovers not only the story of the charms but how his own life influences others.

If you liked “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” you will like this title. Other read-a-likes are “The Rosie Effect” by Graeme Simsion, “The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, and “This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!” by Jonathan Evison.