Title: The Mitford Murders (Mitford Murders #1)
Author: Jessica Fellowes
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Published: 12th September 2017
Synopsis: A Golden Age-style mystery bursting with period detail and set amid the Mitford household, THE MITFORD MURDERS is the glittering start to a thrilling and sumptuous new series written by Jessica Fellowes, author of the number one bestselling Downton Abbey books.
‘A lively, well-written, entertaining whodunit’ THE TIMES
***You can now preorder Bright Young Dead, the thrilling second book in The Mitford Murders series*** Lose yourself in the sumptuous first novel in a new series of Golden Age mysteries set amid the lives of the glamorous Mitford sisters.
It’s 1919, and Louisa Cannon dreams of escaping her life of poverty in London, and most of all her oppressive and dangerous uncle.
Louisa’s salvation is a position within the Mitford household at Asthall Manor, in the Oxfordshire countryside. There she will become nurserymaid, chaperone and confidante to the Mitford sisters, especially sixteen-year-old Nancy – an acerbic, bright young woman in love with stories.
But when a nurse – Florence Nightingale Shore, goddaughter of her famous namesake – is killed on a train in broad daylight, Nancy and amateur sleuth Louisa find that in postwar England, everyone has something to hide . . .
The first in what I am sure will be a gripping and enthralling series, The Mitford Murders takes place in 1919-1921, the years immediately following the end of World War One, with soldiers and nurses still returning from the front and various theatres of war. During late December 1919, Louisa Cannon has escaped London, and her uncle. She’s on her way to take up the position of nursery maid in the Mitford household at Asthall Manor – but an incident on the train she’s one delays her. This incident delays her arrival – and almost jeopardises her job, had it not been for the oldest Mitford daughter, Nancy’s intervention and excitement at a confidant other than her younger sisters and brother. As Nancy and Louisa become friends, they become involved in the murder investigation – helping a police officer – Guy – find out what happened and who the killer was, and looking into people who are not quite who they say they are, introducing another mystery to the story as Louisa does her best to protect Nancy and remain her friend amidst the societal conventions they must live and work within.
These side characters add flavour to the novel, and the premise of the novel, the murder of Florence Nightingale Shore on the train heading towards Sussex that Louisa was on, is based on a real case, a real murder that remains unsolved in reality, but in fiction, is given a resolution, and in true murder mystery style, a murderer caught and brought to justice, and the other strands and characters brought together to conclude the plot and lead into the next book, out later this year.
Taking real life people, historical figures, ad placing them in a fictional context is always interesting and always has potential to go really wrong, or really right. Jessica Fellowes has done an exceptional job – taking historical figures who would later become well known in various circles – Nancy for her writing, Unity for her Nazi tendencies – and created a world where we can see what might have triggered these choices for the girls, and we get to know the Mitford sisters as children and humans and also get to know the ones whose names might not instantly come to mind such as Pamela, and Deborah.
Using an unsolved mystery from history and giving it a potential resolution in its own time and place in fiction worked wonderfully – it was a case that captured the imaginations of the characters and gave them a drive to find out what had happened. Louisa is cleverly written, as is Nancy – both confined by what society wants them to do, yet at the same time, rebellious and eager to step outside these boundaries, Louisa perhaps less so as she wants to remain in the safety of the job and away from her uncle – a plot point that swims through the narrative as well, and at times, these little shifts outside of what they’re expected to do take the plot in an unforeseen yet useful and intriguing direction that helps to bring the many strands together to solve the mysteries that surround the murder, Louisa herself, and Roland Lucknor, a young man who served with Nancy’s father in war and whose suspicious behaviour triggers alarm bells in Louisa and Guy’s minds. Like all good mysteries, it of course has the initial crime and investigators but also red herrings and conflicts between characters that show their flaws and humanity, but it also encapsulates a period in history where class and gender could dictate what one could do and say, and how to present oneself – and I felt this was dealt with really well, and in a way that is believable and accessible to a modern audience, as well as dealing with the hints at rebellion Nancy showed, whilst ensuring she still fit into the mould her parents wanted her to.
I’m looking forward to seeing where the rest of these novels go, and what will happen next with Louisa and the Mitford sisters.