Monday, September 8, 2014

Season of Darkness: Maureen Jennings

I enjoy reading crime fiction books about World War II. I like vintage mysteries written anytime from the 1930's up through 1955, covering the lead-up to the war and the years following the war. I also read a lot of historical fiction set in those years. This book is in the latter group.

Summary from the back the paperback edition:
Tom Tyler is the sole detective inspector in Whitchurch, Shropshire. The quiet village is also home to an internment camp where many German nationals are being held in this hot summer of 1940, mere months after the disaster of Dunkirk and with the threat of a German invasion looming. Young women from all walks of life -- known as Land Girls -- have come to help farmers during this dark time, and one, Elsie Bates, has just been found dead on a deserted country road, with a German Luger and a spray of white poppies by her side.
Here we have a story of a small village in turmoil, with the war increasing everyone's anxiety. There is a murder and many people want to blame the internees. Tyler's investigation is hampered by the possible involvement of his family and friends and the existence of an intelligence group investigating possible spies in the area.

Tom Tyler's home life is a shambles. His son has returned from Dunkirk, damaged and uncommunicative. His teenage daughter is at a difficult age in a difficult time. And his relationship with his wife has never been very good. In the midst of all this, his ex-lover comes back into town, adding more difficult choices to his life.

I enjoyed this book, with its story of a small village in the UK in World War II. The depiction the internment camp and the home where the Land Girls were living both seemed realistic and fit well within the overall story and the investigation. The presence of a murder investigation highlights the confusion and uncertainty in the village resulting from the tensions of the war.

Tom Tyler is not a lovable character; he is selfish and self-absorbed, but he does care about his family and especially his kids. On the other hand, he is not damaged, just going through a difficult time in his life. The important characters were very well drawn. None of them were perfect, which is pretty close to reality, at any time period.

What I did not care for was the love interest sub-plot between Tyler and his old lover. The sub-plot was realistic enough and it did fit within the mystery plot but still, it just did not appeal to me.

As far as a recommendation, I am torn. If this type of story appeals to you and you like the historical setting, it is definitely worth a try. There are three in the series and a fourth is in the works. I plan to read the next one for sure.

Jennings has written another police procedural series, the Detective Murdoch series, set in Toronto, Canada in the 1890's. That series has been turned into a television series, Murdoch Mysteries.

About this author at Goodreads:
Maureen Jennings, now a Canadian Citizen, was born on Eastfield Road in Birmingham, England and spent her formative years there until she emigrated to Canada at the age of seventeen with her mother.
And in this interview, in The Birmingham Post:
Her father Bert, a carpenter, died in the war when she was four. He was a sapper killed during the Italian Campaign at Anzio Beachhead in 1944. Maureen’s mother Betty worked as a cook to support the family while Maureen was a pupil at Saltley Grammar School.

Publisher:  McClelland & Stewart, 2011
Length:     396 pages
Format:    Trade Paperback
Series:      Detective Inspector Tom Tyler Mystery
Setting:     Small village, England, World War II
Genre:      Police procedural, historical mystery
Source:     Purchased


Anonymous said...

Not every 'thriller' can knock your socks off!
Sub-plots can be enriching or just irritating.
In Dective Inspector Huss ( H.Turtsten) the narrative about the husband, child and dog Sammie was awful. On the other hand in ALEX (P.LemaƮtre) the loss of the inspector's wife was a vital part of his character and influenced his thoughts about the investigation at hand.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Sounds much better than the somewhat overrated FOYLE'S WAR to me Yes, I know, one's a book and one's a TV show, but it's all the same to me these days! Might sample these books, though I'm sorry Tyler seems so uncharismatic!

Anonymous said...

Tracy - I know just what you mean about the romance sub-plot. Even when they're credible, they don't always work well in a novel that's not a romance novel. Still, the historical setting of this novel sounds authentic and interesting. Thanks for sharing.

TracyK said...

Nancy, like you say, it did not knock my socks off. But the subject matter is what I like to read so will try another one. Although I liked the Det. Inspector Huss book, I agree that there was a bit too much home life in that one.

TracyK said...

Comparing books and TV shows is fine with me, Sergio. I actually did compare this book with Foyle's War, and I do see it as similar with a more "warts and all" approach. I like Foyle's War a lot, though. I had read that Tyler was not likable, but I did not see it that way. Just very human.

TracyK said...

Right, Margot, sometimes a romance plot works, sometimes it just seems tacked on. I did like the historical setting and the way it was done. Looking forward to trying another one.

col2910 said...

Hmm, elements of it appeal to me, but not everything. I'll probably pass as the page count has swung me against it. I do like a bit of history around the war etc and the internment camp aspect seems interesting.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, some of the best war and espionage novels I have read were set in small villages and towns, and Jack Higgins was one of the masters of that setting and atmosphere. I think it makes the story read very authentic. I'm going to this book and the Detective Murdoch series, too, since I haven't read a good police precedural since "Public Murders" by Bill Granger.

TracyK said...

It is hard to take a chance on a nearly 400 page book, isn't it, Col. Only parts of it appeal to me too, but the setting pulls me in for another try at the series.

TracyK said...

I am glad you mentioned Bill Granger, Prashant. I am on the lookout for some of him books, Public Murders and some of the November Man spy series. I am going to check the big book sale first, and after that, check online.

Anonymous said...

I don't normally read historical crime fiction set during the world wars, but this one sounds intriguing. I'll add it to the ever-burgeoning and daunting TBR list (sigh).

However, I must defend Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks who star in "Goyle's War." I love this series and the actors. I'm not that fond of all of the British BBC mystery series. (I know it's sacrireligious to say that). But Foyle's War is so interesting, and the characters so well-developed. I could rewatch it over and over again.

TracyK said...

I agree, Kathy. My husband and I are hooked on Foyle's War. We have re-watched a couple of the early ones, and will re-watch them all some day.

w said...

For Jennings work, I have the Det. Murdoch mysteries to try. She seems like a good writer of the type of crime fiction I enjoy. She's probably been in my stacks for at least two years. Thanks for the reminder.

TracyK said...

Keishon, I am not sure which series I like best. Haven't read enough to judge probably.

I tried to comment on your latest post several times today. During the day I was at work and tried a couple of browsers. Still having problems at home.

Here's basically what I was trying to say on the topic of authors that have staying power:
I agree with you on Dennis Lehane but I can't read his books. (I actually am going to try a few more.) Definitely yes on Ken Bruen. The authors of today that will be re-readable for me are mainly spy fiction writers; Charles McCarry, Len Deighton, Olen Steinhauer, Admittedly the first two have been around a while.

More suggestions: Ruth Rendell. Also been around for a while. Walter Mosley. I just re-read a Caroline Graham and found it better the 2nd time around.

Clothes In Books said...

This does sound interesting - I have been meaning to try the Murdoch Mysteries, but perhaps this will catch me first. The setting is one that appeals, even if the page length doesn't!

TracyK said...

Moira, I liked this setting better than the Murdoch Mysteries, and maybe the characters here are a bit more realistic. But I think both series have a lot to offer. The only problem I had with Murdoch Mysteries (initially) was the TV movies that I watched (and blurbs about the books) led me to think there was more forensics in the books. But I ended up liking the picture of that time period very much anyway.

w said...

Hi Tracy,

Sorry you had such trouble but I am more than happy to discuss it here. I agree with you about the spy fiction - those tend to have a timeless appeal to them. Of course I love Ruth Rendell and agree that her works are significant enough to stick around for awhile. I will make sure to read Caroline Graham this year. I think I have The Killings at Badger's Drfit load up. Thanks for the feedback.

TracyK said...

Keishon, I suspect The Killings at Badger's Drift is one of her best (the first in the series). I did not reread that one because I knew the ending. There were so many things I loved about Death of a Hollow Man. Hope I can do justice to it in a review.

w said...

Came back to tell you that I'm reading the Caroline Graham and so far so good. The prologue was kind of creepy.

TracyK said...

Good, Keishon, I hope you continue to like it.