Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Snobbery With Violence

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Snobbery With Violence (Severn House, 2005).

After reading a couple of the Agatha Raisin cozies, I found myself reading about their author, Marion Chesney, and after I finished marveling at just how many books she has written - she is a machine! - I looked closely and saw that she has written four in a short series called "An Edwardian Murder Mystery," set in the 1900s. An analogy can be drawn to Agatha Christie, actually. Her best-known series were the stories of Hercule Poirot and of Miss Marple, but she also wrote a few lesser-known books about amateur detectives Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. Perhaps likewise, Chesney is best known for Hamish Macbeth and Miss Raisin's adventures, and here are these period pieces sort of hidden away, mostly unknown and unheralded.

The lead character in this series is Lady Rose Summer, a teenage aristocrat who turns to amateur sleuthing after she crosses paths with a young, retired military man, Captain Harry Cathcart. He, returned from the Boer War quite short of money, starts an interesting new career discreetly resolving the various and complicated social problems that the upper class keeps getting into, for £1000 an issue. Much to Lady Rose's aggravation, neither Captain Cathcart, nor anybody else, will take her investigations seriously, and, in employing a former music hall performer as her maid, she seems bent on ruining her own reputation. The scandal!

These two make a very fun team, and Lady Rose is a great heroine, a suffragette who is stymied in her would-be occupation by social conventions - it's very difficult to investigate a murder when sexually transmitted diseases are part of the motives, when nobody will speak of such unpleasantness around a young woman. With its insightful mix of the era's social custom, fun and vivid characters, and a pretty good mystery, this was quite a good read. I found myself enjoying it at the expense of Agatha Raisin, whose unpleasantness starts getting pretty wearing after about the sixth book. Recommended for fans of Sayers, Allingham, Marsh and that gang.

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