Anna Lee Huber, This Side of Murder
It’s 1919, and war widow Verity Kent is on her way to an engagement party. Her late husband, Sidney, had been close friends with the groom, and they had fought together in the war. Nevertheless, Verity isn’t particularly excited about this party, but she has a specific reason for going: she has received an anonymous note implying that Sidney was involved in treasonous activity during the war. Verity is outraged — she knows Sidney would never do such a thing — and she wants to identify and expose the letter-writer. But when Verity arrives at the party, she learns that all the male guests knew Sidney from the war; in fact, they all served in the same battalion. Then one of the men turns up dead, and Verity is convinced that the murder is connected to the battalion’s actions during the war. To solve the mystery, Verity must investigate her husband’s past, but what she discovers is more shocking than she ever imagined.
I’m always on the lookout for historical mysteries set in the period between the two world wars. Ever since my tween self’s obsession with Agatha Christie, I’ve enjoyed books set in this era, especially if they also involve murder and skulduggery. So I was predisposed to like this book, and I did find it fairly enjoyable. Verity Kent is a somewhat stereotypical heroine, in that she is beautiful, highly competent, and forward-thinking enough to be appealing to contemporary readers. She’s fine, but I wasn’t particularly engaged with her character. However, I do have to give the author credit for surprising me, both regarding the evildoer’s identity and regarding certain romantic plot elements. I’m not entirely on board with how the romance turned out, but I’m intrigued to see what might happen in future books! So while this book didn’t blow me away, I liked it enough that I plan to seek out the sequel, Treacherous Is the Night.
Phillip Rock, The Passing Bells
In the summer of 1914, the aristocratic Grevilles of Abingdon Pryory are relatively carefree, except for the usual problems of their class: son and heir Charles is in love with an unsuitable woman, daughter Alexandra is about to begin her first London Season, and brash American cousin Martin Rilke is visiting from Chicago. So when a duke in faraway Austria is assassinated by a Serbian revolutionary, neither the Grevilles nor their friends believe that the event will have any effect on them. Yet as the conflict escalates into a full-scale war, the Grevilles’ lives are changed forever as Charles joins the army and Alexandra volunteers as a nurse. This novel follows several characters, from Lord Greville down to housemaid Ivy Thaxton, as they experience the shock and horror of World War I.
“Downton Abbey” fan that I am, I couldn’t resist this historical novel about WWI. I was very impressed by the way historical information was embedded into the narrative; while there are a few infodumps, they’re largely unobtrusive. For example, the American cousin is a newspaper man trying to do a story about the war, but his fellow journalists have to explain the background of the European conflict to him. I also liked that the book follows a variety of characters with different perspectives on the war. The young people are enthusiastic and overflowing with patriotism at first, but most of them are quickly disillusioned. Senior military officers berate the stupidity that lost so many lives needlessly at the Somme. The women experience the pain of losing their loved ones, but they also find new and useful work that gives their lives a new direction. All that said, I never became fully gripped by the story; because the novel is so focused on the war, it somewhat neglects character development and relationships. Overall, this is a solid historical fiction novel, and I’d recommend it to fans of the period, but I didn’t love it.