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Thursday, March 01, 2018

Murder in Belgravia

Murder in Belgravia by Lynn Brittney is set in London during WWI, a time period of great interest for many reasons.  

The Great War was in progress and the social landscape was changing:  drugs like cocaine and heroin were available at the local pharmacy; the male population was depleted as men enlisted or were conscripted; the zeppelin raids in 1915; women were needed in areas other than domestic service and were working in factories, wearing trousers, cutting their hair, and learning to drive;  suffragettes were still hoping for the vote, but suspended many of their political activities and offered their services to the government; only a small number of women were able to receive higher education, but the war increased the need for more women in fields that required more disciplined learning.

The book is a murder mystery that touches on all of the above, as well as examining the difficulty for many in accepting these rapid changes.  Today, approximately 100 years later, traditional society struggles to accept the many changes that result from technology.

Briefly, Chief Inspector Peter Beech finds himself investigating the murder of Lord Murcheson.  Murcheson's grievously injured wife has confessed to killing her husband, but questions arise as to whether or not her life-threatening injuries would have made it possible. 

Beech is given permission to assemble an unusual and off-the-record team that includes two women to pursue the Murcheson case.  

In spite of the tawdry elements of the case, the novel has an almost Pollyana-ish group of characters who are more open-minded than would have been typical of the time.  Beech's assembled team includes a retired policeman summoned back because of the loss of man power during the war, a young policeman who was wounded during the war, a female doctor, and a woman who studied law.  All of the characters are dedicated to solving the murder and are interested in making positive changes.

In the midst of a sordid case that includes murder, prostitution (both male and female), and drugs, the assembled team represent the best of humanity.  So...the novel deals with some of the most degraded offenses, but lightens up because of the respectable and decent members of the team.  It is a contrast between the terrible reality of the social ills faced and the virtual goodness of the team.  This contrast between reality and wishful thinking keeps the novel a step below what it could have been.

The plot is intriguing and held my interest, and the characters are likable, if a bit perfect.  

Although the research is obvious, there is no bibliography or list of sources.  This may simply be that my copy is an ARC.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed Murder in Belgravia and look forward to the next in the series.
Cocaine and heroin were available in pharmacies for almost every possible problem from helping babies to sleep, hay fever treatments, pain relief, etc. 

drug use during WWI


some of the drugs advertised during the period

Read in December; review scheduled for March 2018.

NetGalley/Mirror Books

Historical Mystery/WWI.  March 15, 2018.  Print length:  211 pages.


  1. wow this one sounds like a very edgy read! WWI, cocaine, heroin, prostitution, murder mystery, feminism, suffragettes WOW I SO WANT TO READ It NOW!

    1. The use of opioids during that period fascinates me!

  2. Isn't that amazing? About the cocaine. We've been watching the Murdoch Mysteries on Acorn and other than the fact that every discovery seems to 'actually' be from Toronto (or so my husband says), the time period is close to this, though before WWI. There was a recent episode that had cocaine as a part of the plot.

    1. The use of some of these drugs, provided by the government, during WWI was disconcerting. Cocaine has been in use both legally and illegally for over a century!

  3. Those ads are too much! One of the reasons why I love to look through vintage magazines. You can always find such odd things. I want to read this one for the setting but I feel like having characters who are very "modern-thinking" is a problem for a lot of historical mysteries.

    1. I know what you mean, the advertisements in vintage magazines range from amusing to weird to simply hard to believe. Yep, the characters were sometimes just too modern.

  4. “This contrast between reality and wishful thinking keeps the novel a step below what it could have been”

    This is always tricky with historical fiction! I think it bothers some readers more than others, but I am with you. I don’t like it when the characters that are purportedly living in the early 20th century have late 20th century attitudes.

    That said, the plot does seem pretty interesting!

    1. It is tricky, isn't it? Making characters interesting without making them too ahead of their time can be a problem.

  5. Such an interesting time in history, in which advances still reverberate today. I like the sound of this one, even with the too perfect characters. This sounds like something I would enjoy reading!