Murder in Belgravia by Lynn Brittany
This novel is the first in an upcoming series of “Mayfair 100” murder mysteries, which takes place amid the Great War (i.e., WW1), where two civilian women join with police officers to make up a special team, tasked with investigating crimes involving women. On Goodreads, the blurb says “London, 1915. Just 10 months into the First World War, the City is flooded with women taking over the work vacated by men in the Armed Services. Chief Inspector Peter Beech, a young man invalided out of the war in one of the first battles, is faced with investigating the murder of an aristocrat and the man’s wife, a key witness and suspect, will only speak to a woman about the unpleasant details of the case. After persuading the Chief Commissioner to allow him to set up a clandestine team to deal with such situations, Beech puts together a small motley crew of well-educated women and professional policemen. As Beech, Victoria, Caroline, Rigsby and Tollman investigate the murder, they delve into the seedier parts of WWI London, taking them from criminal gangs to brothels and underground drug rings supplying heroin to the upper classes.”
My regular readers probably will recall that not long ago I read a Kerry Greenwood novel, in hopes of finding my next Agatha Christie. Unfortunately, Greenwood’s book didn’t live up to my expectations. When I saw this book available, I decided I’d give Brittany a chance to try to win me over. What made me think this could fit the bill was mostly the idea of civilian women turning to investigating crimes, which had a “Marple-esque” undertone. Of course, the iconic Miss Marple was more of a busybody, and had to prove to the professionals that she knew more than they did, and thereby pointed them to properly solving the crime. Here Brittany gives us two women chosen by the police to work with this team, Victoria and Caroline. Beech chooses Victoria because she studied the law, but because she was a woman ahead of her time, she wasn’t allowed to practice the law. On the other hand, Caroline is a practicing physician, and we all know how the medical profession can provide forensics that can be invaluable in discovering the truth behind a murder. For me, having these two main protagonists boded very well for this novel, but I was hoping they'd get more central roles in the story than they ended up having.
Of course, any good mystery novel worth its salt, needs to have plot twists, and Brittany doesn’t disappoint in this matter. Usually I can figure out who “done it” quite early in a novel; that Brittany had me guessing through easily two-thirds of the book was certainly in her favor here. That said, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and sometimes simplicity works better than complexity. I fear that Brittany fell into this trap somewhat, but eventually crawled herself out of the hole she dug here, for the most part. In addition, notably, Christie was also known for inserting a good helping of humor into her books, and I can see where Brittany did try to amuse me in several places here, and one can hope that in future novels she’ll develop that more extensively. By the way, one very critical reviewer noted that the WW1 aspect here was sorely underplayed. I must agree that despite the Zeppelin bombing included, along with a few scenes where soldiers are in the background, this devastating war did feel otherwise ignored.
Overall, even with these problems, this was still a fun read for the most part. I truly enjoyed how Brittany developed the characters and drew them as highly empathetic, and I’d like to get to know them better. In fact, throughout most of my reading of this book, I really felt that maybe Brittany was showing me she had the potential to be my next Agatha Christie, but unfortunately, she let me down in the end. This was where Brittany made her biggest mistake, by giving us a very rushed ending, where one witness/suspect deftly connects almost all the dots and solves almost everything for everyone, silver platter style. I found it disappointing that the team didn’t get there first, and just use that suspect to fill in the last questions they all had. What I’m saying is that essentially, although this book is flawed, I’m not totally turned off to this series. Sadly, for this reason, I can only give this book three and a half stars, but Brittany’s writing does show a high level of aptitude, and if she can work through some of the weaknesses I’ve noted here, she could be well on the way to having a very promising series, indeed.
Mirror Books released "Murder in Belgravia" by Lynn Brittany on March 15, 2018. This book is available from Amazon, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), as well as new or used from Alibris. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.