SinC25: Laura Wilson, #8 post of expert challenge

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.

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

5 thoughts on “SinC25: Laura Wilson, #8 post of expert challenge

  1. I liked the period feel of Laura Wilson’s first two books but I was dismayed by the death of an important character which I felt was probably publisher led i.e. inject some life into the character of Stratton (I’m trying not to give any spoilers).
    Of your recommended authors I have only read Andrea Maria Schenkel’s ‘The Murder Farm’ which I didn’t like at all and declined to review.However, I am very much in the minority here as a fellow crimesquad reviewer loved it and it was critically acclaimed.
    I love historical fiction. Like you I read it in my teens but I never really stopped. I thought the feel of Laura Wilson’s books were similar to Sarah Water’s ‘Night Watch’ although on a different subject matter and in a different genre.

    • I know exactly what you mean about that death, Sarah. And you may be right, I had not thought of that explanation. Also trying not to give away any spoilers, I thought it might be her way of getting x and y together, as y was a great character and did not appear in book 2 – had to be some reason for a reappearance in book 3?

      Andrea Maria Schenkel is not to my taste, either. Her books are very popular in Germany and have won prestigious awards. I’ve read the three translated but they are not my cup of tea. I did review them because although I didn’t like them I could see what the author was trying to do and could write about that. I think they are very much a particular taste, and at least short.

      In general I am afraid i don’t read much if any historical crime (or any) fiction – for me these Stratton books are the exception to the rule. Although I did read a Winspear and a Monroe, and again can see what the authors are trying to do, I don’t think this subgenre is really “me”. However, this challenge is getting very difficult for me to find new authors that I haven’t covered before!

      • There have been some good recommendations for historical fiction on FF today so I will have a look at some of them. Apologies for the errant apotrophe on my first comment (Sarah Waters). I do know how to use an apostophe honestly!

  2. Maxine – I am so glad you featured Laura Wilson’s work. I really am. I do happen to like historical mysteries and she’s a real talent. I think you’re spot-on, too, in saying that one of the appeals of her work is that her characters really are products of their time and ear. That is, they don’t have modern-day attitudes. That makes the novels “feel” all the more real, in my opinion.

  3. Maxine: Maisie Dobbs is one of my favourite characters. Her empathy with clients and other characters makes her a special sleuth. I think you would enjoy further books in the series.

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