A mystery set in the past is a difficult thing to pull off well, especially if the author chooses to use real events and real people as part of the story, though of course it’s the fun of seeing real life people and real life events we already know about being shown in a new light that makes historical mysteries work. For an example of how to do it right, we have Jessica Fellowes’ The Mitford Murders.
Jessica Fellowes has experience in writing historical fiction set in 1920’s England, since she’s been writing all the books set in the world of Downton Abbey. Here she turns her attention to a real life unsolved mystery, involving some famous real life people, and creates a new Golden Age type mystery.
The protagonist is Louisa Cannon, desperate to escape a life of grinding poverty and difficulty with her widowed mother and obnoxious uncle in London, so when she hears of an opportunity to work as a nanny for a well to do family in Oxfordshire, she jumps at the chance.
At the same time Louisa is escaping from her uncle, a nurse, Florence Nightingale Shore, goddaughter to the famous Florence Nightingale, is murdered in broad daylight on the train on which Louisa is traveling. There are no leads and the case seems likely to go cold, though one police officer is determined to make his reputation by solving it.
And so, it turns out, is one of Louisa’s new charges, the oldest daughter of the Mitford family, Nancy. Nancy is 16 and dying for adventure, for a taste of the outside world. She’s bright and acerbic, a budding author, and she and Louisa find themselves drawn into the investigation of Shore’s death, even though it becomes more and more likely that they are running headlong into danger themselves.
The Mitfords actually existed (and were fascinating people in their own right), and the murder of Florence Nightingale Shore actually happened and was never solved in real life. Using real life people and real events adds just a little more verisimilitude to the vivid setting of 1920’s England, so if you’re a fan of Downton Abbey and the world of England between the World Wars, this should be just your cup of tea.