World War 1 Fiction Historical Mystery Fiction
The Bess Crawford mystery series follows the activities of a first world war British nursing sister, and in this entry – the ninth in the series – Bess is still at the front but it appears as though the war is coming to a close. Shortly before the armistice, she encounters a British Captain during a rare tea break and he proceeds to tell her about the home he is dearly missing in Barbados. It sounds idyllic. He leaves in a hurry because he is anxious to return to his men. Despite the rumours of peace, the fighting continues and Bess is dismayed to discover the Captain in her medical station being treated for a head wound. He returns to the fighting but he is shot in the back. Even more disturbing than the injuries is his insistence that he was shot twice by a British Lieutenant – a distant cousin no less. The medical personnel quickly attribute his ravings to his head wound and he is sent to a clinic, in England, that specializes in “shell shock”. He begs Bess for her assistance and she agrees to help him. The war is now over but Bess – along with her close friend Simon Brandon – investigate the strange circumstances of his case.
At this point the novel resembles a traditional English village mystery. There is the vicar, his wife, the country doctor, the pub owner, the solicitor, the village tea room hostess and the wealthy landowner. The villagers are suspicious of outsiders and the outsiders (Bess and Simon) have difficulty unraveling their mystery because the townspeople circle their wagons and refuse to cooperate. They are distrustful of strangers and protective of their “boys” who have perished in the war.
I have followed this series diligently since the first entry (A Duty to the Dead, 2009) and I hope it continues now that Bess Crawford’s WWI is finished. Bess’s father has an undetermined role in the peace negotiations and it is clear that there will be many war-related messes that require attention. I cannot help but to think of Maisie Dobbs (Jaqueline Winspear 2003) since her story began in 1929 but most of her early cases had roots in WW1. (She was also a battlefield nurse). Bess is constantly sticking her nose in other people’s business so I imagine there could be many cases to come to keep her busy.
Now for a few notes on the author. Charles Todd is actually the pen name for a mother/son writing team and they are also responsible for the Ian Rutledge mysteries. I will confess that I have not yet read the Rutledge books but someday… The Bess Crawford books have an obvious lack of sex so – I don’t know – maybe it’s because of the mother/son thing or maybe it is by design. (When I say no sex I mean none – not real , not implied, not any). I can’t say I mind much but I am a bit of an old fuddy-duddy. Bess has had a few kisses.
The novel addresses many issues of war but in the forefront is the matter of shell shock (battle fatigue, PTSD) . It is an issue that needs to be addressed more so everyone can have a better understanding. The conditions that these men and woman endured are hard to imagine and we do owe them everything. Everything.
This is a terrific series that I hope will continue for many years.
A CASUALTY OF WAR by Charles Todd (2017) Harper Collins 377 pages
“As far as I’m concerned, you can’t beat a good whodunnit: the twists and turns, the clues and the red herrings, and then, finally, the satisfaction of having everything explained to you in a way that makes you kick yourself because you hadn’t seen it from the start.” page 4
This is the quintessential quote about whodunnits and it expresses exactly how I feel. They’re not just about reading; they’re a game, a puzzle, an experience. My adoration of whodunnits directed me to this novel because it promises, not one, but two whodunnits in a single book. What could be better than that! There has been a lot of buzz around this novel and it even made the list as one of Oprah’s favourites of the year. That said, I typically don’t write about such “High profile” books, mostly because there are about a gazillion reviews out there already – do we really need another? No, yet here I go.
I’ll start by saying that I’ve never read an ANTHONY HOROWITZ book in my life until now, but I am still a big fan of his. But, how can that be? Well, this talented man has written and/or created some of my favourite tv shows of all time. He wrote many of the scripts for the first year of “Poirot”, “Midsomer Murders” and “Foyles War.” I am a Canadian but I subscribe to a special channel so I can receive these programs. And isn’t it nice to watch a show where every single character does not look like a Barbie or a Ken Doll – yeah I’m talking about you American tv. When you read this book you will notice that these shows are mentioned often. The title of the book (within the book) is MAGPIE MURDERS but the publisher complains that it sounds too much like MIDSOMER MURDERS. The novel even contains guest stars (yeah guest stars just like tv) with Agatha Christie’s grandson making an appearance in a couple of the chapters.
The novel begins with Susan Ryeland, the editor of a small but successful publishing house, getting cozy with the intention of reading the first transcript of a novel from her most successful writer. Then we are introduced to the novel – Magpie Murders – and the reader is transported to an English Village circa 1955, and an eccentric detective named Atticus Pünd. This is classic English village mystery literature. Just as the detective is about to gather his suspects and announce the murderer – the novel ends because the last chapters are missing. And…the second mystery begins.
This is certainly an homage to Dame Christie and the other writers of the golden age of mysteries. A modern whodunnit in the old style – you know – no tracking people with cell phones or catching the murderer on cctv. All the clues are there so just get comfortable and enjoy the experience- it really is a fun book.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, 2016, HarperCollins Publishers, 236 pages
Dr. Ruth Galloway Mystery #9
This is the ninth entry in the Dr. Ruth Galloway mysteries and it is an impressive and multifaceted novel. We were introduced to Ruth, a forensic archeologist, in THE CROSSING PLACES (2009) where she helped the police solve a very perplexing case involving a missing child. Many of the characters, from that first entry, are still a part of Ruth’s world. As an expert on bones, she is frequently asked to assist the police and she often works with DCI Harry Nelson. They have a complicated relationship – — COMPLICATED!
When bones are found in an underground work site, Ruth is enlisted to determine their age. She is horrified to report that the bones look as if they have been boiled and they appear to be modern. The investigation reveals a network of tunnels under the town – perhaps the remnants of old chalk mines.
At the same time, the police have a missing persons case involving a homeless lady but few people take notice until a new case develops where a middle class mother disappears after her school run. Suddenly it’s big news. The themes of underground societies and the plight of the homeless are consistent throughout the novel.
Ruth has some personal issues as well but I won’t discuss them here because it would be a spoiler for readers who want to start the series at book 1 (Crossing Places). I always like to read a series in order, but of course , that is a personal choice. The novel ends with some startling information about one of the characters.
THE CHALK PIT by Elly Griffiths (2017) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 358 pages
Elly Griffiths has a second series known as the Stephens and Mephesto Mysteries. The third book is available in the U.K. but here (in Canada) we have to wait until September.
This is the seventh book in Ann Cleeves’ delightful Shetland series featuring the dogged detecting skills of Jimmy Perez. I have been a fan of this series since the first book RAVEN BLACK appeared in 2007 and in some ways this book provides some closure from the first book. Magnus Tait, a lonely old man and a suspect in RAVEN BLACK is being buried in the first few pages. We learn that in the intervening years, he had developed some friendships and his last years were not as lonely. It is during his funeral that a landslide sweeps through the cemetery and a nearby croft and exposes the body of a well dressed lady. It is determined that she was murdered before the landslide so Jimmy Perez calls Chief Inspector Willow Reeves to head the investigation. This is a character that has appeared in the last few books and, up until this book, I never cared for her much. I found her irritating and also wrong a lot of the time but in this entry she seems more reasonable (but I don’t think she is a good match for Jimmy.) Jimmy is still grieving for his murdered girlfriend but he is at least open to the idea of a relationship. Well…he is…then he isn’t…then he is….you get the idea.
Sandy Wilson is another character that has been along since the first book . The once raw recruit has grown and is now a thoughtful contributor to the team. He is also in love and I wouldn’t be surprised if marriage is in his future.
In recent years this book series has been made into a television series – simply called SHETLAND. I have only just recently had a chance to see it and it is well worth watching just for the spectacular scenery. I love Douglas Henshall but I think he was miscast a Jimmy Perez. Jimmy had a shipwrecked Spaniard in his family tree and is always described as dark and Spanish looking.
I love these books because Cleeves does a wonderful job of describing life on the Islands. This book does a great job of describing the contradictions of privacy – the homes can be miles apart with vast expanses of land in between yet there is that small town element where everybody knows your business. Private but no privacy.
Good addition to a fabulous series.
*** After the third book this was called a trilogy – after the fourth book it was called a quartet – now it is just called a series. I mention this because in recent years I just fell in love will Peter May’s BLACK HOUSE TRILOGY….LOVED IT so I just want to remind Peter that there is no reason you have to stop a three just because you once called it a trilogy.***
COLD EARTH by Ann Cleeves 2016 Macmillon
Before I have my say on these two books, I would like to introduce three quotes that I believe to be relevant to today’s books.
All great changes are preceded by chaos. Deepak Chopra
Without a struggle there can be no progress. Frederick Douglas
Any change is resisted because bureaucrats have a vested interest in the chaos in which they exist. Richard Nixon
So I think I will be discussing change.
In 1350 England was a changed country. Between one-third and one-half of the population had been wiped out by the plague and the survivors were living in fear and accompanied by grief. The plague years had not been productive and many citizens were also starving to death. And the great manor houses had not been unaffected. Young Oswald was recalled from his situation in the monastery when the Lord of the manor, the heir, and the spare suddenly and quickly succumbed to the plaque. I am referring, of course, to his father and two older brothers. Oswald was probably not well suited for the job ahead of him – he had been in the monastery since the age of seven, and at 19 he had no practical training. England was still operating under the feudal system (fortunately the author explains that a little in the glossary) but all was not running smooth. So many people had died that the able bodied labourer had become quite precious. It was a matter of supply and demand. Laws had been in existence for centuries that bound the various levels of tenants, serfs etc. to the manor house and the wages were also set in stone. But fields needed to be harvested and if someone else was willing to pay more coin in the next county then the labourers might think about relocating. Lord and labourer would both be breaking the law but the number of sheriff’s men had also been reduced in the Plague years. Desperate times bring desperate measures and all that. And young Oswald had more problems…After finding a murdered girl he needed to find the culprit and deal with the priest that was telling everyone that “dog head’ creatures are doing the killing to avenge their sins.
Both these novels center on a murder and throughout the investigations Oswald is hampered by the superstitions and beliefs of those involved.He also needs to appease his narcissist mother and sour sister (although I think I would have been “sour” too if I had been a woman in those times.)
I enjoyed reading both these book for the insight into a difficult time and because I like a whodunnit.
PLAGUE LAND by S.D. Sykes (2014) Hodder & Stoughton 324 pages
THE BUTCHER BIRD by S.D. Sykes (2015) Hodder & Stoughton 336 pages
I recently read and reviewed a mystery novel I enjoyed called “Murder at the Brightwell”,(Ashley Weaver,Minotaur 2014) featuring a spirited socialite named Amory Ames. It was set primarily in an upscale seaside resort hotel in 1930’s England and the dialogue was cracking …sort of Nick and Nora Charles–witty. The reason I am writing this post is because I am actually quite confused with a review I read in Publishers Weekly–“….the affable Amory could carry a series, though plausibly involving her in future murder cases will require some imagination.” Wait–huh? Somebody should have spoken to Madame Christie before she wrote twelve novels featuring a elderly spinster with a hankering for solving murders…and knitting. This has sent me pondering on the nature of the amateur sleuth ( not including the P.I. or police consultant ) The book stores are full of them; bakers, knitters, cake makers, Jane Eyre, librarians, cat lovers, cats, basket weavers (okay, not really sure about that one) decorators,dog lovers, dogs , etc.—all solving murders! I am not saying I am a fan of all these books but I am saying that the idea of any amateur sleuth is probably a stretch. I sincerely hope I never come across a single murder in my life, to say nothing of double digits. I am thinking now of Alan Bradley’s brilliant series featuring eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce; a child who has solved at least six murders (did I mention she’s eleven-years-old). Bradley writes so well she is almost believable.
So what is my point? How about this….Amateur sleuth series…you like them or you don’t, they’re good or they’re not, but plausible, credible, believable—-probably not most of the time.
And don’t have dinner with Jessica Fletcher.
A MURDER MYSTERY
This is a delightful murder mystery reminiscent of the work of Agatha Christie and primarily set in an upscale British seaside resort during the 1930’s. Lots of fun characters (suspects?) and a dead body or two, along with some complicated relationships, amateur sleuthing and a few interesting subplots — what more could a fan of the British cozy mystery want? The witty banter between husband and wife, Amory and Milo, is more Nick and Nora Charles than Christie but their relationship is a little more complicated. Five years earlier Amory chose to marry the cad over the gentleman– and wouldn’t you know it–both are at the Brightwell (one by design and one by surprise) I sincerely hope that this is the first in a series because I just want MORE. I am already casting the characters, in my head, for the film version. Wonderful book.
Why would a man escape from prison 1 day before being released from a ten-year sentence? It just doesn’t make sense…or does it? Audie Palmer has endured almost daily abuse during his incarceration in an American prison ; he’s been throttled, beaten, stabbed and kicked yet he never uttered a word about the seven million dollars that he stole. Now that he’s loose, he has everybody after him–police (local and state), Feds, crooks, friends and former friends. This book is a genuine page turner, can’t-put-down suspense/mystery. Many twists and turns kept this reader engaged right until the exciting climax.
I have been reading Robotham’s novels for several years now, and at first I was disappointed that this was not a Joe O’loughlan book. Joe is a psychologist with Parkinson’s disease and simply a great book character. But I should have had more faith in Mr. Robotham because this book hits all the right notes for a mystery/suspense lover like me. It is also the first of his books that is set in the U.S.A. Definitely not published in the U.S.A (at least my copy) because we had the Canadian, U.K., Australian spellings for neighbour, colour, harbour,labour, and my spellcheck was scribbling all over. This is a stand-alone so it’s as good an introduction to this author as any of his books.. Mr. Robotham is Australian but most of his books are set in England. It is so nice to find an author that I seem to consistently enjoy!!
I still have a handful of WW1 fiction titles that I would like to introduce in my blog before I move away from this topic (for now but not forever) and again I will emphasize that these novels could be set during and/or after the war.
DEAFENING…….by Frances Itani (2003) It has been several years since I read this novel but I think of the story and the characters often. That has to be a sign of a good novel. It is primarily the story of a girl, Grania who becomes deaf at age five after a bout with scarlet fever. She lives in a small town in Canada. The book addresses her education and her close family ties and much more as she is growing up. Eventually she meets a nice man and they marry but soon after the wedding, World War 1 breaks out and Grania’s dear husband signs up as a stretcher bearer with the Canadian army and heads to France. I have written about this book in more detail in an earlier posting because this little blurb could not possible do justice to such a special novel. A wonderful novel that just may send the reader on a rollercoaster of emotions. It was like that for me.
THE CRIMSON ROOMS….by Katharine McMahon (2009) This is a novel that expertly illustrates that a war isn’t really over simply because the fighting has stopped. Evelyn Gifford is a young woman in her 30’s trying to become a lawyer at a time when women were not expected to be lawyers. She lives in a household of women (mostly relatives) and they are grieving for Evelyns’ brother–his hat still hangs on the hook near the door where he left it on his last leave. Evelyn has some interesting cases including a war veteran who refuses to defend himself from a murder charge.I really like this novel and I think it tackles some issues that were in the forefront at the time. It is a stand-alone and a mystery.More next blog.
My last few blog entries have revolved around mystery series set during (or in the aftermath) of World War 1. I would like to continue that theme with this post about three mystery series that may be of interest to anyone who appreciates historical mystery fiction of this era. All three of these mystery series take place after the war but they all incorporate elements of he war, and in some cases the actual answer to the mystery can be found directly in something that happened during the war. All of the novels on this page feature strong, intelligent women as the main characters
Daisy Dalrymple is a character created by Carola Dunn with her first adventure being “DEATH AT WENTWATER COURT” (1994) and then followed by 20 more entries. The reader will learn early in the first novel that Daisy was the privileged child of an Earl but after the war (and because of the war) her circumstances changed dramatically. Her beloved brother Gervais died during the fighting and was buried somewhere in France. Her father died immediately following the war from the Spanish Flu. The Dalrymple money and estate were entailed and thus it was left to a distant cousin. Daisy’s fiance was a Quaker and a “conscientious objector” but he worked as an ambulance driver near the front and he was also killed. To keep busy (and to make money) Daisy began to write successful magazine articles. Her stories on the” Grand Old Estates” allowed for her to travel. In the first novel Daisy meets an interesting fellow – DCI Fletcher, himself a widower after his wife died from the Spanish Flu. Oh yeah…..and there’s a murder. These novels, although the subject matter can be intense, tend to be more like a cozy and less gritty than some other series of this era.
The next series is actually one of my favourites during this era–the DANDY GILVER series by Catriona McPherson with the first entry being “After the Armistice Ball (2005). This first novel is set among the struggling upper classes, in the aftermath of World War 1. We meet a character named Alex who has just inherited an estate , even though he was a second son. His older brother died in the war. A lot of things just aren’t the way they were meant to be. Dandy and Alex become WORK partners and I just love their witty banter, and the droll insight. They are at their absolute best when their investigations bring them to areas of Scotland where the superstitions and customs may seem ridiculous but they’re brilliant at separating the chaff from the wheat. And the war does figure directly in some of the entries, for example, they have a case that involved a “conchie”–that would be slang for conscientious objector. In one telling but simple scene, Dandy is talking to a woman about her own school age sons and, without thinking she asks the woman if she has sons. She realised her mistake immediately as the woman’s face crumpled in on itself. After the war a person NEVER asked a stranger about their sons. This series has 10 titles.
Jade del Cameron is another strong female character written by Suzanne Arruda with the first entry of the series called “THE MARK OF THE LION”(2006) Jade was an ambulance driver during WW1 where her pilot boyfriend downed his plane very near to where she was working. His dying wish was for her to travel to Africa and find his illegitimate brother. In truth I found this to be more of an “African Adventure series ” rather than a “WW1” series but an interesting read all the same.
I am very excited about my next blog post–I will be combining two of my favourite elements of fiction. I love fiction about Scottish Islands, I have written many blogs about this subject in past posts. And I also love World War 1 fiction so I am going present some Scottish Island fiction set during World War1.