Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ moderate challenge, I am now working hard on the expert level. The challenge:
write ten blog posts about works of crime fiction by women authors. For each, mention three similar women authors whose works you would recommend.
Laura Wilson is well-known in the UK both as an author of crime fiction and as a reviewer of crime novels for The Guardian. She wrote half a dozen suspense novels, mostly historical, between 1999 and 2006, but here I want to mention her series about London policeman Ted Stratton, as an example of a historical series that, in examining social and political trends over a period of time (the Blitz to the 1960s), does not get bogged-down in the past in the way that many historical novels can tend, rather self-consciously, to do.
Stratton’s War (2007): “The plotting is excellent, dovetailing perfectly with the excitingly tense World War Two background. The constant personal frustrations of Stratton and Diana, as the truths they separately uncover are suppressed for the “greater good” or for the war effort, or for the retrospectively quaint (but no doubt accurate) imperative to preserve the status quo of the class structure, make the book far deeper than a genre novel.
Part of the pleasure and poignancy of this book is the objectivity and frankness that this talented author can bring to bear on events of nearly 70 years ago. For 30 years or so after the war, novels of this type were still, on the whole, covered with a veneer of propaganda and, although exciting, were often too black-and-white to seem realistic or involving. Laura Wilson examines all the issues: social, sexual and political, with a clear-sightedness that provides real insight to the modern reader. This is an admirable novel, both as a good piece of historical crime fiction, but also as a social and emotionally telling commentary on the snapshot of time in which it is set.”
An Empty Death (2009): ” I enjoyed this novel as much, or perhaps even more than, Stratton’s War. The earlier novel focused on events that could only have taken place in the context of the war, whereas An Empty Death is a timeless mystery that is given added interest and excitement by taking place during such unusual times. I am not usually a fan of historical novels, nor of books set in World War Two, but the apparent authenticity of the many domestic, professional* and general details in this novel, as well as its triple plot, soon had me absorbed. The characters seem so genuine: so often when one reads a contemporary novel set in the past, the characters seem to act knowingly about the future, or to have attitudes that anticipate the modern era. There is none of that here, the author simply presents her characters as of their times, which is very effective.”
(*I have since been corrected on an aspect of this point by Norman of Crime Scraps.)
A Capital Crime (2010): “Laura Wilson has written an excellent novel in A Capital Crime. Her invented characters, whether central or tangential, are completely realistic and of their time yet with a subtle overtone of present-day perspective. Her observations of the social mores of the day are acute, and her cast-list (with the exception of the criminal) sympathetic yet unsentimental. Her settings are beautifully detailed and convincing throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and so much hope that it will not be too long before the next episode in the life of DI Ted Stratton.”
I now have to name three women authors who write in a similar vein. This is quite a challenge to me as I don’t read much historical fiction (I read a great deal of it in my teens and then had enough, rather like science fiction), but I’ll try:
Aly Monroe has so far written three books about Peter Cotton, The Maze of Cadiz (which I’ve read), Washington Shadow and Icelight (which I haven’t yet). Like Laura Wilson’s, these novels begin in the Second World War and continue after it, but the protagonist is a military intelligence agent.
Jacqueline Winspear set the main part of her first Maisie Dobbs novel in 1929. There are nine books to date about this psychology-oriented, ex-nurse investigator with her own business, but I’m afraid I have read only the first of these. In that novel, the themes of the effects of war (in this case, the First Word War) on civilian society and on those involved in it, were very much to the fore.
Andrea Maria Schenkel‘s first two novels, The Murder Farm and Ice Cold (both translated by Anthea Bell), are much grimmer affairs about the myths of war and the brutal crimes committed by those caught up in the maelstrom. They are also relentless depictions of claustrophobic German societies and attitudes, in which in each brief novel the reader can only surmise the war’s cause and effect.