Nannies & Governesses in Crime Fiction

From Nurse Matilda to Nanny McPhee to Mary Poppins to Jane Eyre, the governess or nanny has proved to be a fascinating character in literature, and mystery fiction has it’s share of them.  Interestingly, both Nurse Matilda and Nanny McPhee where created by mystery writer Christianna Brand (1907-1988), beloved by mystery readers for her Inspector Cockrill novels.  Here are a few of my “nanny” favorites.

Patricia Wentworth’s sleuth, Miss Sliver, is a former governess, so the lions’ share of governesses come from her pen. While Miss Silver is now a comfortably employed inquiry agent, she retains some of her governessy characteristics and appearance, a great advantage when she aspires to invisibility within a household where a murder has taken place. Two of my favorites are Wicked Uncle (a.k.a. Spotlight, 1947) where penniless Dorinda Brown takes a job as governess to a spoilt little boy. It’s rare to have the governess be the main protagonist, and this is one of the few examples. The suspense is provided by Dorinda’s fear of her “wicked uncle” who turns out to be her new employer’s neighbor. He is so unpleasant he is of course murdered, but this is one of the most charming of Wentworth’s books. read more

After the Great War

This wonderful essay comes to us from occasional contributor Nancy Shaw.

The wait is over. The recently-released Maisie Dobbs mystery, The American Agent, puts her in the middle of the London Blitz on ambulance runs, bringing her back to the scenes of wartime carnage that molded her life into “psychologist and investigator,” the job she created after nursing in France in World War I. Jacqueline Winspear makes the trauma of war her major subject through her beloved series. Shell shock lingers in the lives of Brits and pops out in a variety of malignant ways, volume after volume. read more

Best of 2018

Black and White Ball, Loren D. Estleman, Deep into a now 80 book and counting career, and 27 in to his iconic Amos Walker series, what is Loren Estleman going to come up with that might be new? You might be surprised. In this novel Walker crosses paths with one of Estleman’s other characters, Peter Macklin, who hires Walker to look after his ex-wife. The meet up of these two classic characters delivers true energy and snap to this tight, well written novel. Paced perfectly, set in a gritty yet realistic Detroit, and sporting the truly lovely prose and incredible dialogue that are an Estleman trademark, this is a great addition to a classic series by the greatest private eye writer at work at the moment. read more