Reviewer Karen Dahood : Karen lives in Tucson, AZ. After 35 years as a writer for businesses and nonprofits, she has turned to writing mysteries,the subtext of which addresses ageism, unpreparedness for aging, and America's wealth of experience and wisdom. Learn more about eldersleuth Sophie George at the Website Moxie Cosmos; Making Sense of Life Through Writing.
Author: Diana Jackson
Highly original page-turner! Diana Jackson kept me guessing right to the end.
This is a very clever writer. She weaves past and future (1919 and 2019) into a multi-generational, multiple-suspect plot. Because she is foremost a local history researcher, you’d hardly expect her first crime novel to have anything in common with science fiction, but her envisioned 2019 is rife with new technology, some of it amusing and some of it downright scary. Then she juxtaposes two rather different places in England, the Channel Islands and Bedfordshire. Both have secrets relating to World War I, but one is natural and still wrapped in mists (former), the other is workaday and well-trodden. (Bedfordshire is home to London’s fourth largest airport, and there’s a safari park.)
The scene of two crimes, “now and then,” is a farm, and though in 2019 its cows choose when to be milked-- the dairy business is almost fully computerized -- area people are old-fashioned and superstitious.
The current investigation following the stabbing of farmer Bob Thomas in his own kitchen, possibly by his wife Joanna, is soon tangled up in the unsettling and unsolved attack on a young woman in 1919 in the adjacent woods. That woman was from Jersey. During the war, Lucille Vardon came to Bedfordshire as a member of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps to work in the officer’s mess in a tent camp. Her murderer was not found. The Thomas’s housekeeper, Helen Carter, who has just lost her daughter, becomes obsessed by the earlier crime, and starts digging into local archives. Letters and photographs give up tiny clues which must be pieced together both in her mind and in the mind of Anna, a Cambridge student from Jersey studying ornithology. She has inherited letters from Lucille, who was her great-great-grandmother’s cousin. As Anna explores the area by bicycle, she and the dead farmer’s son start watching each other through their binoculars.
This novel has sharp edges to it. For one thing, the plot is laced with lust. It also feels political, pitting commercial innovation against tradition and superstition. Some of the characters appear zombie-like, and others are hiding who they are. Leukemia plays a role. Toilets are cleaned. Lucille’s death a century ago is commemorated by a sunrise ceremony in a churchyard where her stone cross grave marker “was leaning at a disturbing angle, as if the occupant might be pushing her way out” of the ground. The chief investigator is distressingly eager to prove Joanna the killer before his retirement. Two underlings race to find answers, going to Jersey to find Anna. Anna quickly leaves for another island to count Puffins.
Jackson is a spellbinder, but also has a propensity for sharing information, which is authoritative and wide-ranging. The history of the dairy herds, the migratory patterns of birds, and the annual parade of historical automobiles, all seem relevant and certainly add atmosphere, as do the tantalizing messages that draw Futurenet visitors to a contest and ultimately private tours of the area around the crime scene. It’s all very foreboding, and one wonders how the author can possibly tie up all the menacing, wiggly embroidery threads.
The author slips in a reference to “Midsomer Murders” and on her website says reviewers have compared her mystery set in an English village to those in the TV series. I find it more sinister, as remarked by her character whose great-grandfather helped build airships near that village, as his quest for information about the past “had sown a seed deep within him and it grew like bindweed.”