The Mitford Vanishing; and The Mitford Secret – Jessica Fellowes

The Mitford Vanishing -2021

For all of you who already have read Jessica Fellowes’ five Mitford family murder mysteries featuring former nurserymaid turned sleuth, Louisa Cannon, why didn’t somebody tell me about them?! The Mitford Vanishing finds Louisa married to former D.I. Guy Sullivan and mother to their baby Maisie nearing a year old. Louisa has just joined Guy in their new private detective agency when they are called by the Mitfords to find sister Decca (Jessica Mitford at age 19) who has disappeared. As those who are familiar with the Mitfords know, several family members were fervent supporters of Naziism, while Jessica was much more left leaning. The Spanish Civil war is drawing anti-facists to Spain via France. Hitler is gaining power in Germany. Jessica has taken all her “running away” money and — run away. Why? Where? Is she safe or in harm’s way? Meanwhile, Louisa is called in to find another missing woman, Petunia Atwood, who failed to return to work after her vacation. Is it just a coincidence that she has an enemy in Bernard Plum, a well regarded employee at her insurance agency who was suspended when Petunia accused him of fraud? Fellowes is very adept at mixing an entirely fictional set of characters, Petunia, Bernard, Louisa, Guy and various other heroes, heroines, villains with a historically accurate picture of the Mitford sisters and Decca’s disappearance in 1937, somewhat reckless, undeniably hard on her family, an act of rebellion and and a decision based on personal and political passion. I “read” the audio version of this book and found it delightful. The mysteries were well-plotted and the characters, even the minor ones who care for Maisie, run a Communist bookstore, translate for Guy, etc. are well drawn. Although I plan to go back to read the first four books in this series, I was not unduly confused by reading the fifth book first, just disappointed it took me so long to find this series.

The Mitford Secret -2022

The Mitford Secret, features former Mitford nursery maid Louisa Sullivan who, with her husband Guy, runs a private detective agency. It is 1941. Louisa and her daughter, six year old Maisie, are heading to Chatsworth– stately home of the Duke of Devonshire — in use as a school since the beginning of WWII. Debo Mitford, recently married Andrew Cavendish, the next to oldest son of the present duke. With the school on holiday, Debo is, somewhat nervously, hosting Christmas at Chatsworth for those Milford’s and Cavendishes who can make it there. Since Guy has commitments to the Home Guard. Louisa welcomes Debo”s invitation for her to join the house party in the country. The Sullivans have not had Maisie evacuated from London, but some time away from the Blitz will be welcome.

Various guests arrive including the Duke and Duchess, Adele Astaire, who is married to the Duke’s brother and “Kick: Kennedy (JFK’s sister) who is romantically involved with the Duke’s elder son, “Billy,” the Marquess of Hartington. The Dowager Duchess has a home on the grounds but is also present, along with Nancy and Unity Mitford and their parents. Unity has already suffered brain damage from her attempted suicide. As to the other Mitford “children” Diana and her husband are imprisoned due to their danger to Britain during wartime, Tom is still alive and serving in Libya and Decca (Jessica) is in the United States. A skeleton staff is present, with some assistance during the day from a couple of women from town, but the guests will have to pitch in to make some long dust covered rooms useable. Chatsworth is a wonderful backdrop to the mystery that evolves, with extensive gardens, outbuildings in varying condition and unending corridors and rooms to provide a suitably eerie feeling.

An incident with an uninvited visitor who brings a strange message raises issues about a former maid who disappeared twenty years earlier. A present day murder happens, but why? As the local constabulary investigates the death. Louisa becomes curious about the woman who went missing so long ago. Any further specifics in this review would become spoilers. Fellowes brings the historical characters alive, placing each in appropriate roles, with an accurate depiction of their known personalities, predilections and social/world views. She never jars by including details that sound “off” about the time or the individuals. Some who are approached find Louisa’s questions and behavior intrusive and perhaps a bit vulgar. Others seem to join in or encourage her inquiries. Faithful servants seem to remain faithful. There are very satisfying twists and turns in this well-written mystery. I have read only the last two books in this series to date, but purchased the first four, being both a fan of the Milford’s and of Fellowe’s clever use of them. Louisa (and her daughter Maisie) are engaging characters. Taking on such a well known set of characters could be a disaster, but Fellowes keeps things pitch perfect and entertaining. It would probably be better to read this series in order, but I did enjoy these out of order entries as stand alone books. Highly recommend.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s