Title: Bright Young Dead (Mitford Murders #2)
Author: Jessica Fellowes
Genre: Crime/Mystery/Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 9th October 2018
Synopsis: The second in the bestselling The Mitford Murders series of Golden Age-style crime novels, soon to be a major TV drama from the makers of The Crown.
‘All the blissful escapism of a Sunday-night period drama in a book’
THE POOL ON THE MITFORD MURDERS
As the glamour of the Bright Young Things crashes into the world of the Mitford sisters, their maid Louisa Cannon finds herself at the scene of a gripping murder mystery.
Meet the Bright Young Things, the rabble-rousing hedonists of the 1920s whose treasure hunts were a media obsession. One such game takes place at the 18th birthday party of Pamela Mitford, but ends in tragedy as cruel, charismatic Adrian Curtis is pushed to his death from the church neighbouring the Mitford home.
The police quickly identify the killer as a maid, Dulcie. But Louisa Cannon, chaperone to the Mitford girls and a former criminal herself, believes Dulcie to be innocent, and sets out to clear the girl’s name . . . all while the real killer may only be steps away.
Picking up three years after the end of Mitford Murders, on the cusp of the second Mitford sibling, Pamela, turning eighteen, Bright Young Dead sees the return of nanny, Louisa Cannon, and the Mitford siblings – the elder two, Pamela and Nancy are at the forefront of the crime solving, along with Louisa Cannon, who acts as their chaperone, and their policeman friend, Guy Sullivan, partnered with a female constable, Mary Moon. Guy and Mary are busy investigating a crime ring known as the Forty Elephants, and later, a murder that takes place at Pamela’s eighteenth birthday party. During a treasure hunt, one of the guests, Adrian Curtis, brother to Charlotte, is found dead, and the maid, Dulcie, who becomes linked to the Forty Elephants, is accused of the crime. But things are not as they seem, as Louisa, Pamela and Nancy will soon discover, there are many more secrets being kept by Dulcie, as well as many more suspects to consider – suspects that Guy’s boss dismissed but that Guy, Mary, Louisa, Pamela and Nancy are keen and willing to look into and bring the real killer to justice.
The second in the series, I was again swept up in the inter-war and pre-Depression setting of England and London, where the Mitford family, especially the older girls, Pamela and Nancy, are starting to discover who they are, and where they fit into society, and the beginnings of the careers and actions that would make them famous, long before the darkening days of the later years of the nineteen thirties and World War Two. The years of the 1920s, at least for the Mitford sisters, were filled with decadence and parties, and a world caught between the dying years of the Victorian and Edwardian eras of Lord and Lady Redesdale (Mr and Mrs Mitford), and the new generation, embracing social change, the suffragette movement, and a freedom that the older generation refused to understand and tried to quash – ideals that Pamela and Nancy did their best to refute and rebel against, especially Nancy. The group in attendance at Pamela’s party are known as the Bright Young Things, who enjoy parties and treasure hunts. Little do they know what this treasure hunt will end with.
We met Nancy, and got to know her in the first book, and here, it is her sister, Pamela at the forefront, but we see more of Nancy’s character and development as an author here too, as well as their growing friendship with Louisa as the two sisters leave the nursery and the world of their younger siblings behind for adult lives, and the continuing investigations into murders that occur within their circles. Where one person sees a cut and dried case, a maid murdering someone in the social class she serves, and a guest of the Mitfords, the other see complexities that need to be uncovered, and links that are unsubstantiated – and the supposed links between the Forty Elephants and the murderer are questioned by Louisa, Nancy, and Pamela, and eventually, Guy and Mary. These characters are what makes the book – each one is unique and individual, and they complement each other, and create a crime fighting team that ensures justice will be done in a world where many take things at face value.
Filled with rich historical detail about underground clubs and how people managed to have frivolous fun amidst a society that at times, wanted things to be done properly and without being too out there or attracting attention, where morals were purported to be quite important and any hint of impropriety had devastating consequences. These rich historical details cement the story and setting, and are nicely contrasted against the modern feel of the main characters as they navigate a changing world.
While Guy and Mary investigate as police officers, and within the law and what their bosses will let them do, Louisa, Nancy and Pamela use their connections with various clubs and other people i the social circles they move around in to gather more information on Dulcie and her connections to the Curtis family, the Forty Elephants and anyone else who might have been involved. As the novel reaches its conclusion, the characters find themselves faced with the prospect that Adrian’s killer is a lot closer to home than they previously thought – or even considered, which ratchets up the tension, and reveals that the world of the Mitfords isn’t as perfect and as elegant as the parents of Nancy and Pamela like to think. The world their daughters are inheriting is going to be dark and dangerous and these few years before the reality of war hits show the freedom that will be lost in the coming years, and the collision of two different worlds within the same family. It is a series that explores the role of family and society, and the implications of stepping outside of these roles amidst murder and theft, and other crimes, and the changing roles of women, and the new-found freedoms young women like Nancy and Pamela, and later, their sisters, Diana, Unity, Decca and Debo would come to enjoy and understand.
This is a series that is just starting, and that has promise – for historical fiction fans, for crime and mystery fans and for anyone else interested in the series. What I like is that the crime is not always straightforward – that like in any good crime show or mystery novel, the first suspect isn’t always the one who has committed the main crime, though they may be linked to it or the victim in another way – nefarious or not. Like any good detectives, official or not, Guy, Mary, Louisa, Pamela and Nancy follow the case and the clues to ensure the murderer is uncovered and that the wrong person doesn’t take the fall for what somebody else did. All in a day’s work for these intrepid investigators. I look forward to the next book, to see which sister or sibling is the next to take a starring role and how far into the thirties and forties the series will take us.
Again, an intriguing read that swept me up in the mystery and the 1920s world. Keep them coming, because this is a series I adore.