Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Jazz Files – Fiona Veitch Smith

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction

Being interested in women’s rights throughout history, this book which harks back to the 1920s and features Poppy Denby who works for The Daily Globe, initially as an office assistant, this book caught my eye. Unsurprisingly as it has a beautiful cover!

Poppy Denby moves from the north of England to stay with her aunt in London, a militant suffragette, and gets a job working at The Daily Globe. She has only just started when one of the other reporters dies in mysterious circumstances. With the other reporters following their own stories Poppy starts to investigate the story he was working on and to the archives to unearth the treasures in the jazz files

“It’s what we call any story that has a whiff of high society scandal but can’t yet be proven… you never know when a skeleton in the closet might prove useful.”

The leads see Poppy visiting  an asylum, meeting a despicable Lord and his son and a information about her aunt and her fellow militant suffragettes back when the campaigning done was at its fiercest.

There is lots to love about this book, despite it being crime fiction and detailing what the suffragettes went through in order to get the vote, it also has quite a light feel to it – Poppy following the leads to write her first piece of journalism felt like a romp mirroring the mood of the day in 1920s London. There is also a small bit of a frothy romance to ensure that the storyline doesn’t get too morose.

It is great to read a book where the majority of the major characters are women who for the most part are supportive of each other, devoid of jealousy or malice. As well as her aunt, Poppy makes friends with an actress, Delilah who introduces Poppy to the jazz clubs and the latest fashions.

The Jazz Files dress

Click on the dress to see more about fashion in the 1920s on a website all about Poppy Denby

As well as a bunch of great characters this book is also solidly based on research although the author does point out at the end where she has taken a rare liberty with time-lines or real people and why she has done so. I certainly got the feeling that I had been transported back in time where horses still featured on the roads more often than cars and where men dismissed women’s abilities to work, make decisions or in fact much at all! At the same time we have Poppy who although not political, realises that there is more to life than working at the Methodist mission, as she did while living with her parents. Although of course that work didn’t put her life in danger the way her investigation does.

I’d like to thank the publishers Lion Hudson PLC for allowing me to read a copy of this book. When Poppy Denby takes on her next investigation, I will be there.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Insanity of Murder – Felicity Young

Historical Crime 4*s
Historical Crime Fiction

Set in the early twentieth century this series featuring the fictional character, Dr Dody McCleland, who works under the forensic scientist Bernard Spilsbury. The Insanity of Murder is set in 1913, with war already looming on the horizon and the cause for women to be allowed more say over their own lives, and most importantly to gain the right to vote were reported in the news.

This mystery starts with Dody’s sister Florence setting a bomb at the Necropolis railway station (something that I’d never heard of before) in London. This railway station was built in Waterloo to transport the dead to Kent for burial to ease the overcrowding of London’s cemeteries. Florence is working on behalf of the militant suffragettes as this faction worked hard to bring their cause to the attention of parliament. This method chosen did sound unnecessarily brutal, particularly as unsurprisingly innocent people got caught up in the inevitable blast. Dody is called to help out with checking the dead bodies which due to the nature of the station had to be examined to ensure that their death hadn’t been a result of the station.

Inspector Matthew Pike with whom Dody is having a romantic relationship with, is on the trail to find the perpetrators of the bombing and Dody quickly finds herself anxious to protect her sister from his detection despite the moral dilemma that causes her distress. Dody doesn’t want her sister to be subject to force-feeding (the authority’s response to the suffragette’s hunger strikes) after the nightmares it had caused the first time Florence was imprisoned.

The book gives the reader an excellent depiction of the lives of women in institutions, including asylums at the time which I find fascinating, especially as the author takes a fully rounded view of the time including the contemporary feelings of the time about the suffragettes. Another aspect of this story is the way it illustrates that the class you were born into defined the treatment that you received, in society as well as in institutions, should you be unfortunate enough to end up in one.

As interesting as all this is the story couldn’t exist without the mystery which is cleverly linked to characters impacted by the explosion. There is a missing woman, a suspected suicide and some shady goings on at a ‘rest-home’. With Dody and Florence’s help Pike’s investigation takes a sinister and dangerous turn, although of course the setting of the bomb was kept strictly between the two women.

I have really taken to the character development of both Dody and Pike which has occurred since the first book, both of whom come across as fully rounded people. The secondary characters provide the perfect backdrop to the mystery with a full-range of characters, some with good intentions, others less so. Some of the characters from this period make an appearance as do some of the events, the death of Emily Dickinson who was killed by Kind George V’s horse at the Derby whilst trying to disturb the race, probably by affixing a flag in the distinctive colours of the Women’s Political and Social Union to the horse’s bridle.

Sadly I haven’t yet got around to reading the second and third book in this series but this is something I am going to rectify without (hopefully) too much further delay because the mixture of historical facts and mystery are not only perfectly combined but incredibly well-balanced. There is never the feeling that the research has been dumped onto the page and in fact some aspects, including those about the necropolis railway station prompted me to do a little fact-finding of my own as it had piqued my interest.

I’d like to thank the publishers HarperCollins Australia who allowed me to have a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion. The Insanity of Murder was published on 1 August 2015.

Books in the Dr Dody McCleland Mysteries

The Anatomy of Death
Antidote to Murder
The Scent of Murder
The Insanity of Murder

More about Bernard Spilsbury, Dody’s boss can be read in The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath by Jane Robbins

Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read

The Anatomy of Death – Felicity Young

20 books of summer logo

Historical Crime Fiction 4*s
Historical Crime Fiction

Dody McCleland young woman doctor returns home from her studies in Edinburgh where she had come to terms with the fact that in 1910 no surgical posts were open to women. Instead she has trained to become an autopsy surgeon and eager to work with Mr Spilsbury following his triumph in the court-room during the trial of Dr Crippen.

On her return she is met with the news that a close friend of her younger sister Florence has been killed during a suffragette march on Whitehall for Votes for Women. Dody refuses to carry out the autopsy on Lady Catherine Cartwright and the case is handed to another surgeon but questions over who killed her remain and Dody is determined to find the answers.

Meanwhile Police Inspector Pike, who worked on the periphery of the investigation into whether Crippen had killed his wife, is under pressure from above to prove that Lady Catherine didn’t die at the hands of a brutal policeman. Whilst wary of the more militant of the suffragettes he firmly believes that the police should have behaved better at the march and is asking difficult questions. Between them can they solve the murder?

This book transported me back in time to the turn of the twentieth century, the descriptions of the march are vivid as are Florence’s recollection of being force-fed while on hunger strike in prison. The author walks a fine line in expressing the various views held in the population at the time including the fact that most of the militant suffragettes had the money and home comforts that enabled them to spend time plotting their next actions whilst the poorer women in England were already working outside the home just to keep a roof over the heads of their families. I like this style very much as I prefer it when authors allow me to read the book in context of the time it is depicted and make up my own mind. I imagine weaving true facts with fiction is actually very hard and the author admits that the first known female attendant to Spilsbury actually occurred a full decade later in 1920 but Felicity Young has created an immensely readable and authentic feeling novel. The mystery isn’t terribly complex, my main enjoyment was derived from the links to events that I already knew so that I was able to read this book in context.

Dody comes across as a very level-headed young woman although not immune to the lure of romance she isn’t one of the men-hating varieties of women, she clearly worships Bernard Spilsbury and is intensely loyal to her sister Florence despite not agreeing with the latter’s more militant stance. With a desire to do good without being preachy about it, the character is well-developed as is that of Pike’s. Coupled with a well-paced thought out plot, this book has clearly been well-researched, an absolute essential for a historical novel.

I have a copy of The Insanity of Murder which is the fourth book in this series due out later this month which is a bit of a shame as I’m sure I’ll now end up reading the other two books out of sequence.

I’d like to say a special thanks (again) to Margot Kinburg from Confessions of a Mystery Novelist who recommended this book to me after I had read The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath. So glad she did and that I chose this as one of my 20 Books of Summer 2015, highly recommended for lovers of historical crime fiction.