Sara-Jayne Townsend is a published crime and horror writer and likes books in which someone dies horribly. She is founder and Chair Person of the T Party Writers’ Group. http://sarajaynetownsend.weebly.com/
May 1915: the cruise ship Lusitania is sunk by German torpedoes, and a wave of anti-German riots and arson attacks erupts across London.
Amongst the victims is the immigrant tailor Jacob Stein, found dead in his burnt-out shop. But when it is revealed that the victim died of stab wounds, inflicted before the fire broke out, it becomes clear that this was murder, not random mob violence. At the time that Jacob Stein was being killed, his daughter Ruth was being raped by two young soldiers about to be shipped out to Ypres. Detective Inspector Harvey Marmion and Sergeant Joe Keedy investigate. The perpetrators of the rape are identified swiftly, but is there any connection between the attack on the daughter and the murder of the father?
The first book in the Home Front Detective series, A Bespoke Murder is an appealing mix of Golden Age whodunit and contemporary police procedural. Set in an era when technology was much more primitive – no mobile phones or Internet searches to make a detective’s life easier – Marmion and Keedy have to travel to France and pull the rapists bodily from the Front Line in order to apprehend them.
Yet modern attitudes make this book seem contemporary, especially when it comes to the female characters. In an era when the absence of men folk proved that women could do the work just as capably as the men could, there is no shortage of strong female characters in this novel. Irene, survivor of the Lusitania sinking, decides that instead of going back to sea to wait on snooty first class passengers, she will settle in London. On her first day of job hunting she is excited by all the prospects on offer, and finds herself with three very different jobs to consider.
Then there is Marmion’s daughter Alice. Still living at home and employed as a school teacher, Alice is considering not only moving into her own place, but joining the Women’s Police Service – decisions which distress her mother, who feels Alice’s energies would be put to better use trying to find herself a husband before she finds herself on the shelf at the grand age of 24. Even Ruth Stein, though devastated by the rape, eventually finds an inner strength that gives her the courage to carry on with life.
Amongst all these strong women, Marmion and Keedy endeavour to discover who might have enough of a grudge against Jacob Stein to kill him. As Stein was a German Jew in London, it seems there is no shortage of suspects.
An entertaining and skilfully plotted book that cleverly blends nostalgia and old-fashioned prejudice with contemporary attitudes, A Bespoke Murder is a lively start to a new series with a great deal of potential.