‘Death In A Blackout’ by Jessica Ellicott is the story of Billie Harkness, a vicar’s daughter from the quiet and sleepy village of Barton St. Giles, who finds herself catapulted into the middle of a murder mystery during World War Two. When tragedy strikes in her own life, Billie flees north to Hull and the kind offer of hospitality from a distant cousin. But Hull is at the forefront of the bombings and before long Billie finds death all around her. When she enlists in the new Women’s Constabulary, she feels compiled to investigate a death that she is sure was murder. The local police do not agree. Billie must find a way to the truth, while keeping under the radar. Female police officers are not exactly popular with everyone and some will do anything to discredit them.
I love mystery novels set in the Second World War. Jessica Ellicott has managed to capture the flavour of the time and the historical detail is well done. Through Billie’s eyes we see the different lives lead by those in the countryside and the coastal cities. We also get to see the different lives led by those of little means, and the rich who think they can carry on as before. But it becomes apparent that life is changing for everyone.
Billie is a resilient and strong woman, but until she is faced with a dead body and a mystery she doesn’t realise it. I liked seeing her change. This was a good story and I am glad to see that the author plans more in this series.
‘Mystery At Lovelace Manor’ by Clare Chase is the eighth in this particular series, but the first for me. It was easy to catch up with the main character Eve Mallow and the backstory of her life and the village. Eve has volunteered to help at Lovelace Sunday, a festival celebrating the romantic history of the the manor and its past inhabitants. But not everything goes to plan. When famous TV historian Cammie Harington is involved in a shocking ‘accident’ Eve feels compelled to investigate. Who could possibly have been involved? And why?
I liked the character of Eve. She played an integral part in her community and was determined and fearless. The mystery was fascinating and kept me interested. There were so many secrets being kept in the village and at the manor, that it was impossible for me to work out whodunnit. Clare Chase has an engaging writing style and has an affinity for her characters. She makes them come alive. I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more by this author.
‘An English Garden Murder’ by Katie Gayle is the story of Julia, a recent divorcee whose husband has left her for the gardener. Now living in the Cotswolds, Julia is trying to move on and start a new life. A quiet life. But when a body is found buried in her garden a quiet life is the last thing she is going to get. The local police force is spread extremely thin, so Julia finds herself investigating the murder – and becomes embroiled in more than she bargained for. As she gets to know her neighbours, and becomes mum to a wayward puppy, the ex-social worker finds her skills from a previous life in London very useful. Will she be able to catch the killer before anyone else gets hurt?
Katie Gayle has a delightful touch, marrying the quaintness of village life with humour and kindness. Julia is a likeable character, with determination and grit. She wants to become a part of the community – just not in quite the way it turns out. She has seen everything in her life in London social work, so is not phased when death turns up on her doorstep. This charming and well-written cosy mystery has an ideal setting, believable characters and the potential for many more stories. I really enjoyed it and was delighted to find that there’s more Katie Gayle books in the offing.
‘Cause Of Death’ by Anna Legat is the third in the Shires Mysteries Series. I haven’t read the previous books, but had no problem jumping in at this point. It can certainly be read as a standalone or as part of the series.
Maggie Kaye and Sam Dee are part of a group of villagers trying to save the local meadows from developers. When one of the protesters is killed, they take it upon themselves to investigate. Maggie has some very specific skills which I found a lovely surprise. Sam has a legal background and between the two of them they are a formidable duo. Maggie needs Sam to temper her more elaborate schemes to get information, and he needs her emotionally.
I really liked that they could go off and do their own investigations and then come back together to collaborate. The author skilfully managed to weave various threads in this well written and plotted mystery. It was a corker of a story, with a believable setting and characters I enjoyed spending time with.
‘A Body On The Beach’ by Dee MacDonald is book 5 in her Kate Palmer Mystery Series. This is the second one I’ve read and I’m quickly becoming a big fan.
The whole village looks forward to the Tinworthy summer fete, but this year it turns out to be a lot more interesting and deadly. When a body is found on the beach, Kate is the first on the scene, and due to an earlier spat with the victim, becomes prime suspect. She’s not the only one in the frame though. Sienna Stone was a singularly unpleasant individual, and the list of those who could have killed her grows and grows. But Kate is determined to get her own name removed from that list, and with her new husband Woody, takes on the mantle of amateur detective once again.
Dee MacDonald writes delightful cosy mysteries, with wonderfully picturesque settings. This book is no exception. Her characters feel like people we all know, and the scenarios extremely believable. Kate is a caring and inquisitive person, with an understanding of how people tick. She can also be reckless and puts herself in some very dangerous situations. Her relationship with Woody is ideal, as he is the sensible and measured foil to her more elaborate plans. ‘Body On The Beach’ is a very good story, with plenty of twists and turns – and the odd red herring to spice things up. I really enjoyed it.
‘Two-Way Murder’ by E.C.R. Lorac was not published in the author’s lifetime, but thankfully the British Library has published it as part of the Crime Classics series. A mysterious disappearance the previous year is still being discussed as the local ball in Fording’s takes place. When a body is found on the road that very night, Waring of the C.I.D. is called in to investigate. It will take more than just a flair for investigation to unravel the mystery as the locals close ranks to keep their secrets.
‘Two-Way Murder’ is a puzzling mystery and one that confounded my own detection skills no end. I enjoyed the careful and methodical way Waring sought his answers. The author’s skills lie in excellent storytelling, exquisite characterisation and misdirection. I loved wallowing in the Golden Age of Crime with E.C.R Lorac, a writer deserving of more recognition.
‘In Place of Fear’ by Catriona McPherson is set in Edinburgh in 1948, at the birth of the NHS. Helen begins a new job as Medical Almoner, which is a welfare role within the practice. Whatever the doctors can’t help with medically, will normally fall under her remit. Her family don’t seem happy that she’s even working, never mind with two male doctors. They are of the opinion that a married woman should be having babies and staying at home. There is also the inverted snobbery attitude that she is trying to rise above her station in life, and girls like her from the poor tenements should be working in factories, not a doctor’s office. When Helen stumbles across a dead body, she finds her herself investigating the murkier side of life. It seems people will stop at nothing to prevent scandal, and by poking her nose in, Helen is in grave danger.
I have read Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Silver series set in the 1920s and enjoyed them immensely. This is very different, in that the heroine is a working class woman, dealing with the harsh realities of life just after the Second World War. The historical aspects of the new NHS fascinated me. Its inception made life bearable for so many people and continues to this day, despite the efforts of some politicians.
The descriptions of Edinburgh in the 1940s felt so real and so desperate. The poverty was appalling still. The use of local language and dialect gave it a gritty reality, and I hope that those reading out-with Scotland will appreciate its richness.
The mystery is well told, as Helen delves into the seedy underbelly of Edinburgh, and finds out some secrets that others will kill to keep hidden. It was tense and compelling. There was also love and loyalty and a desire to make things better. I loved it.
‘The Hog’s Back Mystery’ by Freeman Wills Crofts is an Inspector French mystery written in the 1930s. Set in the North Downs in Surrey, it is the story of a mysterious disappearance that becomes more intriguing as the case progresses. Dr James Earle lives quietly with his wife in the countryside. When he goes missing, the inspector is called in from Scotland Yard. But French cannot fathom what on earth has happened to him. When a visitor goes missing too, the police are baffled. Nothing makes any sense. But the author has concocted a brilliant puzzle. I was completely fooled and thoroughly satisfied by the end.
The setting is the last place one would expect such crimes to take place. It is rural and quiet and the inhabitants apparently genteel and respectable. The writing style perfectly matches this. But as any reader of English countryside mysteries knows, so much lurks under the surface.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a mystery where the investigation is laid out so meticulously. We see into the mind of the Inspector and begin to understand the crimes as he explains his thinking. It was a brilliant piece of investigation, broken down in the most compelling way. I was hooked. I am so glad there as more in this series for me to discover.
‘Murder On An Irish Farm’ by Carlene O’Conner is the eighth in the series, but can most definitely be read as a standalone. It is the first I have read and had no problem understanding the background. The story starts on the day of the wedding of Siobhan and Macdara, a wedding the has to be put on hold when a skeleton is found in a disused slurry pit on a nearby farm. The pair put duty first and run off to investigate. When the case harks back fifty years, the elderly neighbours to the farm become involved, and long held secrets lead to more danger and peril for the detectives. Will they be able to solve the murder before anyone else gets hurt?
I loved the small Irish village setting. It was beautifully described, and the people and their use of language was spot on. I could imagine it so well and hear the dialogue spoken in the wonderful Irish accent. There is humour too, which points to a nation that does not take itself or anyone else too seriously. The author blends this humour with a steely determination to solve crime. It was a fantastic mystery, with lovable characters and the perfect setting.
It’s 1952 in gloomy post-war London, and a group of travellers head off for the ski slopes of Austria. The eight men and eight women can’t wait to escape and partake of everything a European ski resort has to offer. But back home Inspector Brook of Scotland Yard is faced with a terrible death to solve – and the only clue points to an expert skier. Do any of the group have a connection? Brook must sift through the evidence and find the killer before it is too late.
I loved the tandem elements of the story, with the police investigation in London, where clues point to a link to the ski trip, and the trip itself. It was very well written and immersive. It was made all the more interesting to someone in the early 21st century reading about post-war grimy and miserable London, and Europe recovering after the war and trying to get back to some sort of normality with tourism. Carol Carnac originally published this book in 1952, but it has not aged. It is as readable and impressive as it was then.
Carnac lets her characters talk, and through them we see the story unfold. She has a knack for seeing who people really are, and knows their faults and vices. After all, people are people, and a good detective can always count on that. I loved this story and now feel compelled to hunt out more by this author.