Beech slept fitfully on Billy Rigsby’s camp beds. He was in that state of half-awake, half-dreaming and he was distressed. He was dreaming the Victoria was standing in No Man’s Land and he was calling to her, desperately, to make her move to safety. Shells were exploding above her head but she was ignoring everything. He felt as though he couldn’t move. He was waiting for the whistle to go over the top and then it came… except it wasn’t a whistle, it was a shrill and insistent bell. Beech awoke with a jolt, his head thick with images and his underwear soaked in sweat. The ringing persisted and he realized that is was coming from the telephone in the hallway and he struggled to make his legs work and get him off the low camp beds. He struggled to the door. He could still hear explosions in his befuddled brain and he couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t stop. As he reached the telephone and a cool breeze hit his face from an open window in the front hall, it brought a moment of clarity. But he thought he heard another explosion as he lifted the trumpet from the cradle and put it to his ear.
“Mayfair one hundred,” he said in a befuddled voice.
“Peter?!” It was Caroline and she sounded surprised. “Peter, why are you there? I was expecting to speak to Billy.”
“Er… Rigsby had to spend the house at the Murcheson house. What’s wrong?” He could tell that Caroline had an anxious edge to her voice.
“Good God, man! London is being bombed! Peter, look out of the window! Toward the East!”
“What? Hold on while I look.” Beech dropped the telephone receiver and raced out into the street. Above the buildings he could see the red glow of fire and high – so high that it was almost just a whisper of a shape in the dark night sky – was a huge Zeppelin, pointing south. He then became aware of some women screaming in the distance and the sound of multiple fire engine bells coming from all direction and heading away from Mayfair. Then he saw a few flashes of heavy gunfire in the distance, presumably from some gun battery along the Thames. Suddenly, he realized that he was standing in the street in his vest and long johns, he darted back inside and back to the phone.
“Caroline! Caro! Are you still there?” He joggled the cradle frantically.
“Yes! Yes! I’m still here! But I must go very soon. We have been told that some wounded will be coming into the hospital. I just telephoned to tell Billy that Hoxton has been hit. That is where his family lives, isn’t it?”
Murder in Belgravia by Lynn Brittney is the first instalment in the Mayfair 100 mystery series focusing around a special task force in the London Metropolitan Police especially created to deal with crimes involving women.
Set in London in 1915: war veteran Chief Inspector Peter Beech realises that, with so many men at the front and so many women left in the city, it is only natural that more and more crimes will see women’s involvement and he suspects – based on his own experience – that male policemen may be ill-equipped to deal with it. The war is changing society, but society has not changed enough yet to allow a woman to be part of the police. So Beech works to get permission to create a task force of professional women (we see a doctor in this instalment, a lawyer and a pharmacist) and policemen – these latter will both protect the women and do the actual arrests. This task force needs to be kept secret and will never be exposed, no matter what good results they may achieve.
I really really enjoyed the historical setting. It is quite clear that the author did a great deal of research for this series… which in a way is what I found the biggest issue too. The central part of the story brings into the plot many historical facts (the bombing of London, the groups of patrolling women, the liberal use of drugs which were still unregulated) that while interesting in their own right, have little or no real importance to the actual plot. Which is a shame, because this made the central part of the story drag a bit and it was indeed a bit distracting.
The mystery plot in itself was quite straightforward, if realistic and logical. Nothing spectacular in terms of ideas, but I actually like this because it goes well with the setting, since the central idea of the series is clearly to spotlight what women could bring into the game with their professionalism in everyday life.
The cast of recurring characters (and there will be quite a lot from what I see) is nice and relatable. I know I’ll read more in this series if I’ll have a chance.
In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies