Oxford, 1960. An unexplained death, a pair of investigators, a beauty contest. There are so many wonderful things to enjoy in this book, a must for fans of “Endeavour”, that I thoroughly recommend it. Faith Martin revels in creating an atmosphere that combines the domestic realities of daily life in 1960 with the problems of a mystery that defies an easy explanation. The characters are tremendously realistic, and each nuance of their appearance, behaviour and reactions are lovingly written. As a novel it is fascinating, as a mystery it is intriguing, and I was extremely glad to receive a special copy of this book, the second in a series featuring some of these characters.
This novel opens with a mysterious figure collecting yew berries for an unknown purpose, a fact that soon gets lost as Trudy Lovelace, new Woman Police Constable, is consulted by her old school friend Grace Farley. Grace is working for the fierce Mrs Dunbar, whose husband is organising the promotional “Miss Oxford Honey Beauty Pageant”, and who insists that Grace organises the contestants as her husband shows too much interest in the young women. This scenario is so much of its time, yet gives a perfect backdrop for young women to be sharing dressing rooms and to present a target for pranksters and worse. Trudy is unsure whether a lowly constable such as herself will be allowed to investigate, so she approaches her former colleague, the coroner Dr Clement Ryder. A man with his own secret, Ryder agrees to facilitate an undercover investigation while posing as a judge. Trudy goes undercover as a contestant, much as she is reluctant to walk the catwalk. As more is explored about the world of the competition, the families of various girls are revealed in their settings. This has the effect of humanising these young woman, some of whom are determined to win the contest or other prizes.
The narrative style of this book in the third person reveals much about the time, the characters and the mystery at the heart of the novel. It is gentle, thoughtful and yet has a strong undertone. I greatly enjoyed the development of the story and the revelation of the characters, as it is sometimes funny, always to the purpose and satisfactorily concluded. This is the sort of book which kept me awake as I found it quietly compelling, and I was keen to find out what would happen next. Clement Ryder is a fascinating character, as he pulls strings and makes possible an investigation even though there is some doubt about if there was an actual crime committed. It is a sign of how far times have changed that Trudy’s reluctant fascination with the clothes involved in the competition is innocent rather than indignant, and that she knows that given half a chance she would be relegated to family liaison and dealing with female offenders. This is an historical crime novel written with a lot of feeling for the time, and I would be keen to read other adventures of Trudy and Clement.
Meanwhile last night we went to see the film “Mary, Queen of Scots”. Apart from sitting very close to the screen, we enjoyed it very much, even if the geography of Scotland was unrealistic to say the least. I thought that Margot Robbie was very strong as Elizabeth, and the make up most effective. Some interesting decisions had been made about the filming, not least in barely touching on the long imprisonment endured by Mary which seemed to have aged Elizabeth but left Mary unmarked. It was an interesting view of women in a very male environment, and to a certain extent argues that in order to survive a woman must become male in all senses. A film well worth seeing.