Sometime ago I introduced the readers of this blog to three of my favorite mystery authors: Jacqueline Winspear, Rhys Bowen, and a librarian turned author, Ashley Weaver (the first two authors are native Brits who live in the United States). All three have women as their main characters. Winspear’s Masie Dobbs started out in service, became a nurse during World War I, and went into business as a private investigator after that. Lady Georgiana Rannoch, Bowen’s heroine, started out 34th in line to the British throne, but after her brother and sister-in-law produced an heir, she fell down a notch. Amory Ames’ place in British society falls between Lady Georgiana and Masie Dobbs, and, like the other women, Ashley Weaver has her delve into murder mysteries.
So far, Lady Georgiana’s adventures take place in the early 1930s. Georgiana is second cousin to King George V and is a member of a penniless Scottish noble family that owns a drafty castle in Scotland and a townhouse in London. Georgiana started on “spyness” adventures when Queen Mary asked her to keep an eye on her son the Prince of Wales, the heir the British throne, who was running around international society with an American mistress, Wallis Simpson. Wherever Georgiana goes, dead bodies have a habit of showing up and so does her widowed mother, who circulates in same the crowd as the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Simpson.
Because of job of shadowing, the heir to throne and his American friend often takes Georgiana to London, where she stays at her family’s townhouse without the benefit of servants. While in London she can see her maternal grandfather, who is a retired police officer. On one her trips she picks up a woman named Queenie to be her maid. This woman would be right at home with the Three Stooges. Georgiana takes her on as a favor to her grandfather, despite the fact that Queenie has no education, manners, nor skills.
Besides her finding a maid in the midst of her adventures, Georgiana falls in love with a minor Irish royal, Darcy O’Mara, whose family is as poor as her own. He has a job, he works for the British Secret Service, which means he is in and out of Georgiana’s life, as he is off on secret missions that take him all over the world. That’s not his only disadvantage: he’s Catholic as well, and if Georgiana wants to marry him she will have to get permission from the King.
Masie Dobbs deals with more serious issues than Georgiana. When her mother dies, Masie is twelve and her father, a costermonger in Covent Garden, talks one of his rich customers into taking Masie into service. When the lady of the house finds Masie studying in their library early one morning , she makes arrangements for her young maid to be tutored. Masie eventually goes to the Women’s College at Oxford, but World War I interferes and she enlists as a nurse. Working in a aid station close to the front, a German shell injures Masie and a doctor she has fallen in love with; she is less severely hurt, but the doctor eventually succumbs to his injuries. Meanwhile, Masie finds a new career as a private detective/psychologist and hires, as her assistant, a young man who was also injured in the war. The first seven of Winspear’s books deal with the consequences of World War I in Great Britain. A majority of the characters in these books have been directly or indirectly affected by the Great War. Maisie and her assistant Billy have scars, both physical and mental; most of Maisie’s cases are tied to the war.
The later 1930’s were a sad time in Maisie’s life. She has married, but a tragic accident made her a widow. Dr. Maurice Blanche, her mentor, dies and leaves Maisie his estate resulting in her becoming a wealthy woman. Maisie decides she needs a change in her life, so she closes her office and sails to India. On her way back to England, she decided to visit Gibraltar on the southern tip the Iberian peninsula; A Dangerous Place, with the Spanish Civil War raging to the north. After she returns home, she is sent on a mission to Hitler’s Germany to bring a man to England who is vital to Britain’s war plans.
If you read Winspear’s series in order, you get a biography of a strong fictional character with a well-researched historical background. As of this year (2018) Maisie’s life has reached 1940 with the current publication of To Die But Once. If my reckonings are correct, Maisie should be in her early to mid-forties. Along with other women her age, she is about to see her country through another war with Germany as the major enemy.
Amory Ames, Ashley Weaver’s main character, has lots of money and a very handsome husband. Her husband spends his time wandering around and attracting items in society’s gossip columns in the first novel in the series. The reader is introduced to Amory while she is headed to the south coast of England to help her ex-fiancee while she questions her relationship with her husband. Gil Trent (her ex-fiancee) wants her to help him keep his sister from marrying a man whose reputation is way less than that of a gentleman. In the second book, Amory has reconciled with her husband, Milo, and has been asked to find a jewel thief. The third volume finds Amory and Milo at a country house party where passions are not far from the surface and one of the guests is murdered. Amory, with help from Milo, tracks the murderer down.
All three authors picked the 1920s and 1930s, and in the case of Maisie Dobbs, the 1940s to set their main character’s adventures. I, personally, came into the world in Scotland at the end of the thirties and lived there through World War II before moving to the States. So, I know what members of my parents’ generation went through while recovering from one war, having to deal with the depression, and facing another war on the continent. It took strong women, such as Maisie Dobbs, Georgiana Rannoch, Amory Ames, or, in real life, my mother to live back then.