July has been almost too delicious for words. First was the long awaited return of Sujata Massey’s Perveen Mistry series; and then, just as eagerly anticipated (by me) is the new book in Allison Montclair’s Sparks and Bainbridge series. Five books in, fans of the series know that Gwen Bainbridge and Iris Sparks run The Right Sort marriage bureau in postwar London. Iris did undercover work during the war; Gwen lost her husband, fell apart, and was literally declared a lunatic by her husband’s family, who have custody of her child and have put the portion of the family company she’s inherited from her husband under the control of the lunacy court. It looks like, in book five, that the form of purdah Gwen finds herself in is about to be lifted. Her lawyer is hopeful and so is Gwen.
Join us this summer for some reading! In June, we’ll read S.J. Bennett’s All the Queen’s Men, meeting in person on Sunday, June 25 at 2 p.m. and on zoom on Wednesday, June 28 at 7 p.m. In July, Allison Montclair will be joining us on zoom on Sunday, July 23 at 2 p.m. to discuss her new book, The Lady from Burma. While it’s not necessary to have read any of Ms. Montclair’s books before the discussion, I recommend them highly! It’s a wonderful series set in London just post WWII. And spoiler, Allison Montclair is a pen name – tune to discover her (?) true identity. In August, we’ll be reading the much award nominated Shutter by Ramona Emerson, meeting in person on Sunday, August 13 at 2 p.m. and on zoom on Wednesday, August 16 at 7 p.m. Anyone is welcome – please message us on facebook or twitter or email us at store (at) auntagathas.com for more info or for a zoom link.
One reason I love historical mystery fiction so much is that the characters are operating without technology – they are using old fashioned deductive reasoning to solve their cases. This year there was an incredible variety of wonderful work to choose from, embracing periods from just pre-WWII America in both the Southwest and in LA; to the East Coast in the 50’s; to Ohio in the 20’s; to Emily Dickinson and her maid investigating a crime close to home. And of course there are some new installments of some always excellent series fiction, as well as two break outs with first in series books.
This series goes from strength to strength. Set in just post WWII London, Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge run The Right Sort, a marriage bureau (apparently something that existed at the time). Iris worked in intelligence during the war, and Gwen, a daughter of privilege, is a bereaved widow who lives with her in-laws and young son as they have had her declared mentally incompetent. The two find solace and purpose in running a business together, and my only actual quibble with this book was that there was really none of the marriage bureau in the plot (or very little).
After we closed the store and my reading was slightly less proscribed by authors visiting or the latest new thing, I realized that one of the genres I truly love is historical mysteries. The range is so wide – in story telling style, in time period, in characters, and the armchair history lessons always, always add to my reading enjoyment. The fact that the books are set in the past makes the detective rely much more on old fashioned, golden age style sleuthing methods, another attraction, as far as I’m concerned. Thanks to Mystery Scene Magazine as well as my own reading, I find I read pretty widely in this subgenre. Here are my 10 favorites this year. One of them I liked so much it’s on my all around top 10 list (stay tuned!)
This has very quickly become one of my favorite and most anticipated series. Set in London just post war, the main characters are Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge, two opposites who work like clockwork together. Iris is single and Gwen is a widowed mother living with her in-laws, and the two run a marriage bureau called the “Right Sort”. Each book opens with the approach of a client, and that sets off whatever delightful chain of events Montclair has in store for her reader.
Iris and Gwen have expanded their business a bit, and now boast a two-room office suite as well as a secretary. The approach of their first African customer throws them off a tiny bit, but the ladies rally and agree to help find proper, polite Mr. Daile a match. The book opens with a scene in Africa. It’s brief though memorable, as a boat sinks and many are lost. Certainly, you will be thinking to yourself, Mr. Daile is connected to this tragedy. The cagey Montclair reveals no secrets before her time, though. Three books in, I was more than content to leave it in her capable hands and feel certain the link would be made clear. (Reader, it was).
I loved the first book in this series, The Right Sort of Man, and I loved this installment every bit as much. Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge own The Right Sort marriage bureau, operating in post war London, and while they are still working to match couples, they do seem to get caught up in a great deal of subterfuge. Which, for the lucky reader, is all to the good.
As Iris and Gwen are working away one day, their afternoon appointment turns out to be an envoy from the royal household, with the hope that Iris and Gwen can vet a possible marriage candidate for the young Princess Elizabeth. This of course is none other than Prince Philip, and as any devoted royal watcher knows, Philip’s backstory is almost like a novel. The talented Montclair takes this fact and runs with it.
I couldn’t keep it to 10 this year – can I ever? My taste does tend toward the traditional and historical fiction side of things, so that’s mostly reflected here. And a note: Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land, while not strictly a mystery, can definitely be enjoyed by his mystery loving fans. Quite simply, it’s the best book of 2019 of any variety, and I hope everyone reads it. I am looking to read it again myself.
There was lots to love this year! Some long-awaited returns (S.J. Rozan), some debuts (Melanie Golding, Allison Montclair, Jess Montgomery), some trying a different format or series (Ann Cleeves, Elly Griffiths), and of course some solid entries in already great series (Benn, Bowen, Jones, Massey, Shaber). Lots of great, passionate, spectacular writing. I love being a mystery reader!
This is one of the most intelligent and funny first novels I’ve read in a long while. Set in immediate post WW II London – any fan of Call the Midwife will be familiar with the setting – it’s a period of time still governed by rationing and coupons, and people who have suffered some war trauma, be it loss, living through the Blitz, or actually fighting in the war.
Our two central characters are Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge. Iris has a secret history of resistance fighting and espionage, none of which she can talk about; Gwen, an almost titled member of the upper classes, has lost her husband and is raising her son at her mother-in-law’s after a stint in a mental asylum. She refuses to talk about it.