Three Mysteries

A Divided Loyalty by Charles Todd, Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth, & Trouble in Nuala by Harriet Steel

Travel back in time with me to three mysteries set in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1921, Inspector Ian Rutledge travels to Avebury in Wiltshire, to investigate a death by a standing stone, part of the largest stone circle in England. Since then, many more of the stones have been uncovered, but even then it was apparently an uncanny place. Rutledge, having solved a similar crime in Shropshire, is asked to take over Chief Inspector Brian Leslie’s case. When some new evidence, painstakingly discovered, contradicts Leslie’s report, Rutledge has to decide where his loyalty lies. There are many twists and turns along the way, an atmospheric setting, and even a pursuit at night on horseback. One of the best in this long-running series.

In 1929, Charles Moray has come home to England to his inherited house, only to hear voices and see a light in the supposedly vacant house. His former fiancée Margaret, is mixed up in a gang of criminals, but is willing to help Charles save the life of a lovely but naïve young girl, Margot. This is the first mystery featuring Miss Maud Silver, retired governess turned sleuth, and the mystery was suspenseful and fast-paced. I found the book hard to put down, surprising me as this book was published in 1929. Perhaps a new mystery with a similar setting and plot would have more violence, but maybe not. Miss Silver was a contemporary of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, but is not as well known.
The first Inspector de Silva mystery is set in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, in the 1930s. Shanti de Silva is enjoying his work in the town of Nuala, driving his Morris car and picnicking with his wife, until a complaint is made against an English tea plantation owner, and then a body is found at the plantation. Shanti’s wife Jane, a former governess, befriends the plantation owner’s wife. A lovely setting, a cricket game, and some fine detecting add to the reader’s pleasure. Dark Clouds Over Nuala is the next book in the series.
I enjoyed all three mysteries, and plan to read more by these authors.
Brenda

 

A Useful Woman

A Useful Woman by Darcie Wilde

This is the engaging first book in a mystery series set during the Regency period in London. In 1817, a few years after her family’s fortunes changed for the worse, Rosalind Thorne lives on the fringes of London society as a personal secretary for fashionable ladies, helping to organize events, shop, and plan debuts for young ladies. When Rosalind’s godmother, Lady Blanchard, is late leaving a meeting with the other patronesses of Almack’s Assembly Rooms, Rosalind finds a body in the ballroom. The dead man’s sister asks Rosalind to look into his death, along with Adam Harkness, a Bow Street Runner. A former beau reappears in Rosalind’s life, and she must balance uncovering secrets with keeping her good reputation. A pleasantly diverting read, followed by A Purely Private Matter, then And Dangerous to Know, which I plan to add to my reading list. All of these titles are available from Media on Demand, our Overdrive/Libby collection. A fourth book is expected in November.

Brenda

Lady Clementine

Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict

The struggles and triumphs of the wife of Winston Churchill make for an interesting biographical novel, especially the second half of the book, which covers World War II. The first half of the book doesn’t flow as well, as it covers the first thirty years of Clementine and Winston’s marriage. Clementine was always interested in politics, although she didn’t always share Winston’s views. He was moody and rather bombastic, but Clementine would stand up to him, soothe and support him, and they were a good team, at least according to this very well researched novel. Clementine struggled to balance being a supportive wife with being a good mother and running a household on a modest budget during the early years of their marriage, and occasionally took a rest cure to recharge. I really liked the chapters on Clementine’s work on the home front during the war, improving air raid shelters, helping Winston with his speeches, and being recognized internationally for her work with the Red Cross. Other recent books about the Winston and his mother Jennie include Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard and That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron. Readalikes include novels by Melanie Benjamin, Paula McLain, and Nancy Horan.

Brenda

 

Lady Takes the Case

Lady Takes the Case by Eliza Casey

An enjoyable historical mystery set in 1912, suggested for fans of Downton Abbey. A house party at Danby Hall in Yorkshire is planned to introduce Patrick, Lord Avebury’s son, to young American heiress Annabel Clarke. A poisoning during a formal dinner party casts suspicion on Patrick, an amateur botanist. Patrick’s sister, Lady Cecilia, teams up with Annabel’s maid Jane and her inquisitive cat Jack to help solve the mystery. Very likeable main characters, a picturesque setting and a clever mystery make for a satisfying cozy, although the pacing is rather leisurely in the beginning. This is the first book in the Manor Cat series by a pseudonymous award-winning author, with Lady Rights a Wrong to be published this June.

Brenda

 

Goodnight from London

Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson

In June, 1940, Ruby Sutton, a young reporter in New York City, accepts an assignment to report on the war from London at Picture Weekly magazine. Ruby, as an American, brings a fresh perspective to stories of home front England and the Blitz, mentored by veteran photographer Mary Buchanan and editor Kaz. Ruby is befriended by Captain Bennett, who has a secret wartime job; a romance seems likely. Over the next few years, Ruby, raised in an orphanage, finds a new family and home in London. A very compelling read, there are naturally some poignant scenes, but this is more heartwarming than many novels set during the war. If you’re in the mood for an excellent historical novel with memorable characters, this is a sure bet. For more about Ruby, Kaz, and Bennett, read The Gown, which we’re discussing Tuesday night at the library. Readalikes include books by Jennifer Ryan, Lissa Evans, Beatriz Williams, and AJ Pearce.
Brenda

 

Downton Abbey

Books and Videos for Fans of Downton Abbey

Fiction

Bradford, Barbara Taylor. Cavendon Hall
Follett, Ken. Fall of Giants
Galsworthy, John. The Forsyte Saga
Goodwin, Daisy. An American Heiress
Harper, Karen. American Duchess
Hollinghurst, Alan. The Stranger’s Child
Ibbotson, Eva. A Countess Below Stairs
Ishiguro, Kazuo. Remains of the Day
Kinghorn, Judith. The Echo of Twilight
Morton, Kate. The House at Riverton
Steel, Danielle. Beauchamp Hall
Waugh, Evelyn. Brideshead Revisited
Weldon, Fay. Habits of the House; Long Live the King; The New Countess
Wharton, Edith. Buccaneers; The House of Mirth
White, Roseanna. The Lost Heiress

Mysteries

Arlen, Tessa. Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman
Eccles, Marjorie. Heirs and Assigns
Fellowes, Jessica. The Mitford Murders
Maxwell, Alyssa. A Murderous Marriage

Non-Fiction

Carnarvon, Countess of. Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey
Fellowes, Jessica. Downton Abbey: A Celebration
Gardiner, Juliet. Manor House
Livingstone, Natalie. The Mistresses of Cliveden
Moran, Mollie. Minding the Manor
Powell, Margaret. Below Stairs; Servants’ Hall
Rowley, Emma. Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey
Warwick, Sarah. Upstairs and Downstairs

Videos

Brideshead Revisited
The Forsyte Saga
Gosford Park
Howards End
Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate
Remains of the Day
The Shooting Party
Secrets of Iconic British Estates
Secrets of the Manor House
Upstairs, Downstairs

Enjoy some of these titles before, after, or instead of watching the new Downton Abbey movie. Enjoy!

Brenda

A Single Thread

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

At 38, Violet Speedwell is one of England’s surplus women, her fiancé one of many young men who died in the Great War. Weary of her mother’s demands and complaints, Violet takes a position as typist and moves to the cathedral city of Winchester in 1932. Barely making ends meet until she speaks up and gets more hours, Violet finds a satisfying hobby when she joins the Broderers’ Guild, embroidering kneelers and cushions for the cathedral, often while listening to the bell ringers. The story is compelling and absorbing rather than fast-paced, with a strong sense of place and the wonderfully imperfect Violet, who has to talk herself into taking a planned walking holiday. Sure to be popular with book groups, I enjoyed this book more than any of Chevalier’s books I’ve read since Remarkable Creatures.
Brenda

Ellie and the Harpmaker

Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior

On the anniversary of her father’s death, Ellie Jacobs goes for a long walk in the Exmoor woods and finds the Harp Barn and Dan Hollis, the harpmaker. Dan, very happy in his work and in the beautifully described countryside, is apparently on the autistic spectrum. Ellie slowly learns to play a harp, but hasn’t yet told her husband Clive, who’s a bit of a bully. Ellie and especially Dan are very appealing characters while Phineas the pheasant, Tom the postman, and young Edward add color and charm. This heartwarming debut novel is sure to be popular. The author plays the harp, and her love of music and Exmoor shine through.

Brenda

Death Comes to Bath

Death Comes to Bath by Catherine Lloyd

I loved the beautiful setting of this Regency-era English mystery, and the ability to easily start this series at book six. After a war wound received at Waterloo becomes infected, Sir Robert Kurland and his wife Lucy rent a house in Bath so that Robert can enjoy the healing properties of the Roman baths. Bringing Lucy’s sister Ann, their doctor Fletcher and his pregnant wife Penelope, it’s a lively household. Lucy and Robert get to know the mismatched couple next door, Sir William Benson, an older man from Yorkshire who spends time at the baths with Robert, and his younger, beautiful wife. When William dies suddenly, suspicion falls on his sons and stepsons, especially when his will can’t be found. After a second suspicious death next door, amateur sleuths Lucy and Robert work together to uncover the truth. Colorful characters and a clever plot make me want to spend more time with Robert and Lucy, who first appear in Death Comes to the Village. This novel is a good readalike for the Stephanie Barron mystery series featuring Jane Austen as an amateur sleuth.

Brenda

We Must Be Brave

27We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet

This is a splendid, moving novel about a young woman and the girls she mothers in southern England in the mid 20th century. Ellen Parr, born well-off, struggles when her father loses his money. Trying to cope in a run-down cottage with her impractical mother, Ellen finds unexpected kindness from her schoolmate Lucy’s family and a local handyman. Ten years later, recently married Ellen finds young Pamela asleep on a bus after Southampton is bombed in December, 1940. Although Ellen’s husband, a miller, doesn’t want to keep Pamela, they do. Eventually, they have to give Pamela back to her relatives in a heart-wrenching scene. Much later, schoolgirl Penny needs somewhere to stay after a flood and during school holidays. This first novel, while a tearjerker at times, is a compelling, satisfying, and ultimately heartwarming read.
Brenda