I yearn for the golden era of crime writing — so much so that I’m thinking of writing a series myself, though that will have to wait until I’ve got rather further with the ongoing contemporary series. I’ve always been a fan of Christie, Sayers, Marsh and the like, and the current trend for reprints of some of the less well-known of that genre is a positive pleasure to me, and has given me many hours of pleasant reading.
With that in mind, I turned to a contemporary take on the 1930s genre with relish — a cosy historical, if you like to call it that. It’s called The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes, and if the name Fellowes rings a bell in connection with the upper-class Mitfords then so it should. Jessica is a scion of the (Downton Abbey) Fellowes dynasty, and has written the companions to the tv series.
With that in mind, I was expecting sumptuous detail on the lives of the minor aristocracy, and I wasn’t disappointed. Nurserymaid Louisa fetches up with the Mitfords as she attempts to escape from her unfortunate background (dead father, weak mother, exploitative uncle) and becomes confidante to sixteen-year old Nancy. When Nancy gets a bee in her bonnet about the murder of a war nurse on a train (on which Louisa was a passenger), the plot is born.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved the detail and the story, with plenty of twists that I didn’t see coming. If I have a grouch it’s that some of the investigation seemed a little bit simplistic, and that Nancy didn’t come across as the precocious, brittle and not particularly pleasant person she seems to have been from other books I’ve read.
The book was nicely written and flowed well enough, though the pace slowed at a few points so that I put it down and went off to do something else. That said, I did keep picking it up again, though it wasn’t what I’d call a page-turner. I particularly loved the way that Louisa’s rather innocent romance with hapless railway policeman Guy runs alongside Nancy’s determination to find a man, regardless of whether or not he’s a crook.
The concept of putting a fictional character in the heart of real events isn’t original — Laurie Graham, in particular, does it wonderfully well in both The Importance of Being Kennedy and Gone With The Windsors — but it works. That said, the book is billed as the first of a series and I’m not quite sure how long this can be spun out. The tagline is ‘six sisters, a lifetime of mystery’ but with the younger sister not born when the series begins and the oldest close to leaving home on a lifetime of adventure, I’m not quite sure how it will work as a series.
I’ll just have to read the next book and find out…