I am absolutely obsessed with historical mysteries. I read a lot of them, but (due to their similarities) I haven’t done a review on any. So today that will all change with this one…for the worse.
This book was released on January 23, 2018 (so about a month ago as of this post).
It features a fictional story revolving around the real life murder of retired army nurse Florence Nightingale Shore in January, 1920. In real life, her murder was never solved. However, in this book it is. The fictional story follows a young woman by the name of Louisa Cannon, who goes to work for the powerful Mitford family (a real family, though the characters have been altered for fiction) outside of London, as well as Guy Sullivan, a detective with the railway police who investigates the crime. The book is told in their two perspectives as they solve Shore’s mysterious death over about two years.
I was really disappointed with this book. I’ve read a lot of historical mysteries and this is one is one of my least favorites.
The characters were entirely shallow and often annoying. Louisa is bordering on semi-damsel-in-distress, Nancy (the oldest Mitford daughter who is curious to solve the crime) acts as if she’s bipolar (apologies to anyone who is actually bipolar), and Guy is so creepy dealing with his crush on Louisa he has no problem endangering her life. And the majority of the rest of the characters are interchangeable in my mind. I was constantly having to go back to figure out who was who.
Saying that, Agatha Christie has similarly shallow characters, but I still love her books for the plot. However, with the plot of this one, there is little redeemable qualities. The plot is extremely slow-moving and the clues and revelations were too far separated to help them enhance the mystery/tension.
I will say, the last fifty pages were enjoyable, but they felt kind of slapped in just to finish off this 400 page book. Usually, when I read the ending of a mystery, I’m like, “Ah, why didn’t I see who the murderer was all along.” In this one, I was just like, “Really…well, that’s unexpected.” I personally felt the author could have cut out a lot throughout the early part of the book, and I would have liked it better.
Now, the historical context was well done and one of the few redeeming qualities of this book. 1920 was a time of great change in the world—following WWI and the rise of flappers—and you see that in this book.
One thing I found a bit strange was the use of apostrophes (‘’) instead of quotation marks (“”) around the dialogue. This seems really petty for me to talk about, but I am an English major and it bugged me that this incorrect use of apostrophes was perpetrated throughout the book. I kept getting confused of when someone was speaking. This felt like a style choice, but it seemed wrong to me.
I did, however, like the length of chapters. I find so many books have a formula for how long chapters should be, and I enjoyed this book having interspaced shorter chapters with longer chapters.
Now, onto the spoiler section!
The foreshadowing was extremely heavy-handed in this book. Even the prologue (told in Shore’s—the victim’s—perspective) ends in “That was the last time anyone saw Florence Nightingale Shore alive again.” Why do you need this when the next few chapters describe this exact thing? I could have just skipped those chapters and not missed a thing.
I didn’t mark every time the author employed this heavy-handed method, but here are a couple more examples: “The two of them crept up the back stairs to their rooms and nothing was said of it again, until some months later” (217) (why do we need to now this?) and “Ada—for Ada it was, as he would later discover—gave a broad grin” (280) (this is just an excuse to use her name in the scene even though he doesn’t know it yet). The foreshadowing just kept throwing me out of the scenes.
Also, I did not like Shore’s random letters from a couple years ago. They added nothing to the story that we didn’t learn in the present, and just wasted pages.
As I talked about earlier, Guy claimed to like Louisa but he seemed to take little precautions about putting her in danger. He begged her to come along and have him question Stuart Hobkirk (the victim’s heir) and later to drive Mabel (a friend of the victim and the murderer) to Nancy’s eighteenth party to identify who they believed to be the killer.
What I love about most male leads in historical cozy mysteries (the Molly Murphy series, the Gaslight Mysteries, etc.) is that they are protective of the main female protagonists. They don’t want to put them in danger. But Guy had no issue with this, making me dislike him.
I understood why Guy wanted to solve this case (he worked as a detective) and why Nancy was curious about it (she was just a nosy person looking for adventure), but it didn’t make any sense why Louisa felt so invested in solving the crime. At first she simply follows around Nancy, who is trying to learn more about the murder, and eventually she realizes “she needed to do something; everything else was failing at her touch, it seemed” (295). But why? What reason does she have to feel invested? I just never understood until near the end when she was trying to protect Nancy why Louisa should care about this murder.
My final thought had to do with the title. It said The Mitford Murders but there is only one murder (the other two mentioned dying—Bill and Rolland years before—aren’t murdered).
I feel like this review has been a bit rambling (of course, which of my reviews aren’t rambling), but there are my thoughts. This is the first historical mystery I’ve read that I really disliked. Hopefully next week I’ll be reviewing a book I actually liked (from The Cruel Prince to this, I feel like I haven’t found any book released this year that I actually enjoyed).
Suffice it to say, I will not be checking out any sequels to this book. Make sure to follow my blog for more madness, and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,