This is the second tale in the Poppy Denby series, set between the two World Wars. Taking place in 1920, the backdrop of this story is the ongoing Russian civil war. Slotted in between the 1920 narrative, are segments from 1917 and 1918 Russia, within which a burglar gets more than he bargains for, when he goes to steal a Faberge egg from an aristocratic family; who are one of the treasure keepers for the Russian royal family. However, back in 1920s London, we see Poppy Denby, the Arts and Entertainment editor for the Daily Globe, and various newspaper colleagues attending an exhibition at the Crystal Palace, showcasing various pieces of Russian artwork, owned by royal Russian refugees. The Russian Embassy, which is there on behalf of the provisional Russian government, is far from happy about this event, seeing these items as stolen from Russia. Of course there is a collection of Faberge eggs, with some of the treasure keepers, now refugees, at the exhibit and it goes without saying that minutes into the event the lights go out, a shot is heard and when order is restored one of the eggs is missing. Given the number of diverse interested parties attending the function, there are a number of possibilities for who is responsible for the theft. Equally with such a valuable item, (how valuable becomes more apparent as the story unfolds), in limbo, it doesn’t take long until death strikes…
Fiona Veitch Smith is 2 for 2 so far, as my second read by her is another success, ticking lots of boxes. Given how saturated the market is for interwar female sleuth novels, I think this author has managed to create a series, including setting and characters, which stands apart from the others. Her weaving in of real historical events and people is deftly done, with any small changes being mentioned in the postscript to the story. Not sure if this counts as a subgenre, but this mystery is best summed up as a journalism thriller, with the reader discovering a lot of the answers to the various mysteries at the time Poppy finds them out herself, (though the earlier flashbacks give the reader a slight edge, albeit an misleading one at times, in the red herring vein).
Although this book takes place over a few days, it is an action-packed story that you’ll want to complete in one sitting. The author works with a full body of characters, yet to Veitch Smith’s credit, it is easy to keep them separate in your head and she quickly has the reader committed to following Poppy’s adventures. My one quibble perhaps is how interconnected characters are in this story, as the intensity of convenient connections between characters sometimes stretches credulity a bit too much. But this is a minor point. The romance element of this series is a slow burner and has a minimal presence in the book, which means the plot is not bogged down in it. The author handles this aspect of the story in a mature fashion and I liked how the male interest is a widow with two children, as this is not a feature you often see.
Consequently, it shouldn’t surprise you that I give this book a big thumbs up and I would definitely recommend giving the series a go.
Calendar of Crime: October (3) Primary Action Takes Place in this Month
See also: The Jazz Files (2015)