Remembrance Sunday: WW1 Mysteries

In light of today’s anniversary I decided to have a look at mystery novels which are set in WW1. Initially I thought it wouldn’t be too tricky to come up with some titles. I got off to a Image result for home front detective seriesgreat start when I remembered Edward Marston’s Home Front Detective series which now has five novels: A Bespoke Murder (2011), Instrument of Slaughter (2012), Five Dead Canaries (2013), Deeds of Darkness (2014) and Dance of Death (2015). However, after this point the list didn’t progress quite so quickly, mainly because I realised that the authors I had been thinking of, such as Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs’ novels, hadn’t set their novels during the WW1 but in its aftermath. So I didn’t feel these really counted as WW1 mysteries. I then got briefly excited by remembering John Buchan’s The 39 Steps (1915), but then recalled that the book is set during the run up to WW1.

So I eventually caved in and did a spot of googling, which did lead to a few more titles for my list. Firstly there was Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford mystery series, which has a battlefield nurse for its amateur sleuth and has eight books to its name. Todd also hasImage result for bess crawford mysteries another series starring Inspector Rutledge, but these books begin in 1919. Another name I came across was Anne Perry who I knew did a Victorian mystery series but it seems she has also written a series of books which follows the character Joseph Reavley through WW1. There are five books in the series beginning with No Grave As Yet (2003). A bigger surprise for me though was to find out that Ben Elton, (who wrote so many of the old BBC sitcoms that I love), has also written a crime novel set during this war entitled, The First Casualty (2005). A final author I gleamed from my internet search was Alan Rustage (penname for Sally Spencer) whose Inspector Blackstone series includes a novel set during WW1 called Blackstone and the Great War (2012).

So having written this post two main questions came up for me. Firstly, does anyone know of any other mystery novels set during WW1? In particular ones which were published at the time, as I haven’t been able to find any, though this may say more about my internet searching than anything else. Secondly, am I being too picky? Should novels set in the aftermath be allowed to count? Or should they be kept as a separate group with their specific features and tropes? A feature I felt which made such books distinct was that they are often retrospective and deal with the emotional, physical and psychological legacies of the war, in a way mystery novels set during the war can’t really do.

Of course a mystery novel very pertinent to the Remembrance anniversary is Dorothy L Sayers’ The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928), which begins on Remembrance Day. Thanks to the Gaslight Crime blog which reviewed this book this week and reminded me of this crucial detail.Image result for remembrance poppies



  1. The later Buchan novels featuring Richard Hannay, “Greenmantle” and “Mr. Standfast” are set during WWI.

    Another novel that comes to mind is Robert Goddard’s “In Pale Battalions”. Although set in the aftermath the plot relies heavily on the events of the war. It even begins with a visit to a WWI memorial.

    There are also several Sherlock Holmes pastiches set during the war:
    Robert Ryan’ s Dr. Watson series starting with “Dead Man’s Land”
    “Sherlock Holmes and the Hellbirds” by Austin Michelson and Nicholas Utechin
    “Sherlock Holmes – The Spirit Box” by George Mann

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A couple of Andrew Martin’s Jim Stringer novels are set during WWI (“The Somme Stations” and “The Baghdad Railway Club”).

    Rennie Airth’s “River of Darkness” is set in 1921, and the after-effects of the war are significant (both detective and killer having suffered severe psychological damage).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. From the top of my head, I know of only one genuine WWI-era mystery (short) story: Laurance Clarke’s “Flashlights,” which was published in the May, 1918 issue of The Strand Magazine. You can read the story for yourself in Ye Olde Book of Locked Room Conundrums (here.

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  4. Thanks for the link. Another two I can highly recommend:

    Andrew Martin’s ‘The Somme Stations’ (2011). His detective, Jim Stringer, is on the munitions trains just behind the lines – so you get a ‘noises off’ view of the Somme, which is very clever.

    ‘The Corpse in the Waiting Room’ by Pamela Godden (2014). The murder takes place in November 1920 at Dover Harbour station – while crowds await the arrival of the body of the Unknown Soldier.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pamela Godden is a new author to me. Is it a mystery solved via amateur sleuth or police? I read Martin’s novel Deviation Junction a few years ago and found it a rather painful read. Had a bit too much information on trains for my liking.


  5. ‘The Corpse in the Waiting Room’ has a youngish, middle-class sleuth, recovering from his own war. Highly atmospheric and enjoyable. Billed as first in a series.
    Don’t think any Jim Stringer has quite matched the first, ‘The Necropolis Railway’ set in 1901ish. Thought writing and plot were superb – but maybe you have to like steam trains.


  6. Somehow no one has mentioned The Mysterious Affair at Styles (written 1916, published 1920).

    You shouldn’t miss Arthur Machen’s (supernatural?) mystery The Terror (1916), which captures the early war atmosphere of hysterical rumours and queer legends, such as that of the Angel of Mons or that of the trains full of Cossack soldiers speeding through the English night.

    “John Buchan’s The 39 Steps (1915) … is set during the run up to WW1.” Doyle’s, His Last Bow (1917) was set in the same period. The story is a propaganda piece. There must be a lot more such stories. PG Wodehouse’s Death at the Excelsior may be one (I can’t find when it was published other than the year, which was 1914). Chesterton did a send up of this sort of story in A Tall Story, set in the same period, from the Paradoxes of Mr. Pond (1936).

    Valentine Williams’s The Man with the Clubfoot (1918) has some similarities to Greenmantle, and is perhaps more of a thriller than a mystery, but introduces the Okewood brothers familiar from Christie’s Partners in Crime (as an aside, it was after a talk given by Williams in France in 1919 that John Street, the prolific detective novelist John Rhode/Miles Burton decided to try his hand at writing).

    Mason’s The Affair At The Semiramis Hotel (1917) from The Four Corners Of The World is a detective story, but is set well before the war. However, One Of Them and Peiffer, from the same collection, are espionage tales, possible based on Mason’s own experiences in the manner of the later book Ashenden (which itself was turned into a genuine mystery, with that WWI setting, by Hitchcock in The Secret Agent !).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suppose I didn’t think of the Christie title because of it being published later. Thanks for all your great suggestions, quite a few familiar names, though I wasn’t aware of their work in this period. Arthur Machen is a new author to me though.


  7. Exactly like you, I thought ‘yes there must be lots’ then realized there aren’t. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors also has a plotline linked to the war – I can remember being very interested in the picture she drew of deserters, people reported dead, lost IDs, French peasants helping…
    One of my favourite books of any kind is Sebastian Japrisot’s A Very Long Engagement – it’s a mystery rather than a crime novel, and is set before during and after the War.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. 2 novels of the Thomas Oscendale series by Jonathasn Hicks:
    1.The Dead Of Mametz
    2. Demons walk Among Us
    Both are WW1 mystery novels easily available at Amazon.

    Liked by 1 person

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