Today’s read is one I had been recommended a few months ago, so it was fortuitous when I got it as a Christmas present. Most of the novel takes place in 1920, though events also flashback to earlier times, in particular 1913, which is where the book begins. Elizabeth Dorchester, who had been arrested as a suffragette has been released and is planning to meet a fellow suffragette to pass over convictable evidence in exchange for a ticket out of the country. Things do not go according to plan… The narrative then jumps ahead to 1920 in which Poppy Denby has just arrived in London to live with her suffragette aunt and her companion. Events lead to her getting a job on the Daily Globe and it is not long before she is making new friends and also new enemies. As you might expect Dorchester re-enters the narrative and it is not long before her story and Poppy’s intertwine, with the death of a fellow reporter sparking off an investigation into the past. Aside from the reporter’s death this is more than a cold case to be solved, as Dorchester’s life is very much in the balance and Poppy’s own life is not immune to life threatening danger. Sinister figures of the past are very much respectable figures of the present and are keen to use their power to ensure it stays that way. Yet it is not just enemies from without that Poppy has to be mindful of, as it unfolds that the enemy may also be lurking within, perhaps even in the form of those closest and dearest to her…
So as you might have grasped suffragettes and rights for women are a key theme of book, not just as a social setting, but as a fundamental element of the mystery plot. The plot does hinge on violence perpetuated towards such women, yet it does not present such figures as unnaturally perfect. Poppy was only a child during such events, yet in 1920 she still has to navigate her way around a world which is uncomfortably morphing and shifting. She is trying to find her place in the society, especially within the realm of work and of course she is equally trying to find her voice, as even male characters who are friendly towards her and are happy she is working as a journalist, fail to see the irony of themselves talking over the top of her in order to defend her.
I wouldn’t say this is an inverted mystery, but I think most readers will be able to figure out the rough trajectory the story will take. This is not a criticism as whilst the narrative arc might be familiar, it is one which is well told and put into an engaging social context. Fiona Veitch Smith very quickly draws you in to emotionally investing in the central characters, which combined with the dramatic events of the text, leads to this being a nail biting and edge of your seat read. The reader is unsure how things will work out for Poppy and the others, which the author adds to by throwing in a number of interesting developments. The writer certainly has plenty of surprises up her sleeves!
On a random note it was nice to have a sleuth who came from Northumberland, in particular within the time period the novel is set and I also couldn’t help but smile by how novel a public telephone box is to Poppy when she first arrives in London. The period detail is nicely done without feeling too overwhelming and it definitely doesn’t hamper the plot. I would have preferred a slightly longer ending, but I can see that Smith may have wanted to leave us wanting more… which in fairness is a successful ploy as I am now keen to try out the other three titles in the series! So all in all a fun entertaining read, which was certainly a struggle to put down.
Calendar of Crime: September (8) Month related item on the cover