Stuck in bed with the flu, I devoured it in a day, and I promise you, fans of Downton Abbey will love this wonderful first novel by Jessica Fellowes, who just happens to be the niece of Downton Abbey’s writer, Julian Fellowes.
Jessica Fellowes cut her writing teeth as the author of spin-offs from her uncle’s famous series. However, after reading this, her first novel, I am convinced that she has some of his magic in her writing DNA. Now let me tell you more about her debut novel The Mitford Murders.
Set in London in the bleak period between the first and second world war, the novel skilfully entwines both a factual event and family with fiction. The event is the seemingly unsolvable murder on a train of brave retired war nurse, Florence Nightingale Shore, a niece of the first Florence Nightingale.
We are introduced to the wealthy and titled Mitford family. They live in idyllic Asthall Manor and are the family of the soon to be famous writer Nancy Mitford. Much of the story told is of Nancy’s pre ‘coming out’ years. Jessica Fellowes shows her true writer’s mettle by very astutely blending these two seemingly unconnected events into a completely mesmerising murder mystery page turner.
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We also meet Louise Cannon, a young woman trying to get away from her manipulative uncle who is forcefully accompanying her on the train. In her desperation, she jumps out of the moving train door and is rescued by two railway policemen who help her onto her onward journey. However almost simultaneously the body of Nurse Florence Shore is discovered.
Louise becomes housemaid at Asthall Manor, praying that her uncle never finds her there. She quickly forms a bond with the young Nancy Mitford, who is already weaving stories about the recent gruesome train murder. By chance, the young policeman Guy Sullivan is also focused on finding the killer. Although he is discouraged in his efforts by his seniors, he pursues his enquiries in his own time.
It is now that the reader gets the notion that we are reading the first of what is going to be a great detective series, for, of course, Louise, Guy and Nancy all collude to find the murderer, especially when they realise that he is far closer to the family than anyone knows. But they have to prove it first.
This novel adroitly creates the perfect balance between fact and fiction. Set against the background of London and with letters from the Ypres war zone threaded throughout, the reader sees once again the bleak horrors of the aftermath of war. Mustard gas attacks, military field hospitals, brutalised, dying men and shell shock. Men also shunned for being unfit to serve their country and men who kill themselves rather than serve it. The wealthy and entitled London scene is reeling after the carnage of war, and so social events are only just re-emerging, due to such a lack of suitable young men.
I just sat back and enjoyed this wonderful debut by Jessica Fellowes. I forgot to divide the lines between fact and fiction and just absorbed the atmosphere, enjoyed the wonderful characters and appreciated the fluid and descriptive prose. Even though I was sleepy from the flu, I managed to stay awake until the very end.
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And what an ending it is!
So clever and well thought out. Everything in one book. Crime, mystery, romance, humour, gritty reality, fact, fiction and so much more. This book is special, and I can guarantee I’ll be looking out for the next one. A ‘Must read’ highly recommended by me.