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Sunday 7 July 2019

‘A Death in Chelsea’ by Lynn Brittney

Published by Mirror Books,
14 March 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-912624-20-1 (PB)

Women working with the police in 1915 – shock! horror! But with able-bodied men urged to head to the Front to join the fight against Kaiser Bill, and crime still rife in dear old Blighty, what choice is there? Especially when the women in question are every bit as capable as their male counterparts; indeed, in most cases, far more so.

Chief Inspector Peter Beech, invalided out of the army, has assembled a small team of highly trained ladies, each in her own way as skilled and competent as any man. A hundred years later, of course, that sounds patronizing and offensive; at the time it was simply the way people thought. Fortunately, Beech knows better, as do Sergeant Tollman and ex-boxer Constable Rigsby, the one too old to fight, the other wounded too badly like his boss.

Lady Adeline Treborne, a well-known and much disliked gossip columnist, is found dead in her Chelsea flat. Caroline Allardyce's medical background comes in useful to ascertain the cause of death – with a little help from Rigsby's Aunty Sissy, who lays out dead bodies for a living. Pharmacist Mabel Summersby could be credited with inventing the art of forensics if she wasn't fictional. And Victoria Ellingham's sharp mind and legal training also prove very handy. Then there's Lady Maud, whose outlook is unconventional to say the least; and Rigsby's redoubtable mum Elsie.

Together they make a formidable team, and when a little digging into the unfortunate columnist's background reveals a wealth of wrongdoing including blackmail, fraud and forgery, their various talents prove both useful and complementary.

It's not all plain sailing. The ladies need to tread carefully around other people's prejudices, albeit with the blessing of Police Commissioner Sir Edward Henry, Beech's boss.  Sir Edward is keen that enquiries into Lady Adeline's death be kept discreet – and what could be more discreet than a team of female investigators? Beech's arch-rival, the clod-hopping Inspector Carter, tries to get in on the action, but the ladies are a few steps ahead of him and save the day.

It all adds up to a glorious romp through early 20th century London in the company of a group of the brightest and pluckiest women you could wish to meet – and a handful of sensible, enlightened men as well. There's a nicely complicated plot, plenty of period detail, a glimpse into the beginnings of forensic research, and some well-drawn and appealing characters to play it all out. And the merest hint of anti-war propaganda creeps in as well.

Wartime London is safe in the hands of Chief Inspector Beech and his merry crew. Long may they continue.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Lynn Brittney has fifty-two plays, books (fiction and non-fiction), and foreign translations of her books registered for PLR. She began novel-writing in 2005 and the first book in her Nathan Fox Elizabethan spy trilogy was nominated for the Waterstones and Brandford Boase Prize. In 2016 she created the Mayfair 100 series, set in WW1. The first two books – Murder in Belgravia and A Death in Chelsea have been published in the UK by Mirror Books.  

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction. 

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