Friday Book Whimsy: The Mitford Murders

The author of The Mitford Murders – Jessica Fellowes — is the niece of Julian Fellowes. She has co-authored several Downton Abbey companion books alongside her uncle. So it is not surprising that the novel – which I think is her first crack at fiction – has quite a feel of Downton Abbey to it. That, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s what prompted this reader to pick up the book.

The story is based on a real-life event – the actual murder of Florence Nightingale Shore, the goddaughter of famous nurse Florence Nightingale. The murder, which took place during the middle of the day on a train in 1920, was never solved in real life. Fellowes takes a stab at solving the mystery via her fictional protagonist Louise Cannon.

Louise is on the run from her wicked uncle who has promised great harm to Louise and/or her mother should she not continue to steal for him. She takes a job as a nanny to the Mitford children. Continuing with the combination of fiction and nonfiction, the Mitfords were a real-life and controversial British family known for their style and their politics. In this novel, Louise happens to ride on the train on which the murder takes place. Her connections to the Mitford family – and particularly her relationship with Nancy Mitford – keeps her connected to the murder case, which is being worked on by two young police detectives.

The book promises to be the first in a series that will feature Louise Cannon and one of the police officers, who develop a romantic connection.

The story had a fun upstairs/downstairs feel to it, though some of the characters and situations were a bit predictable. Fellowes’ writing could have a bit more literary drive to it. I found that I wasn’t particularly compelled to pick up the novel once I had put it down. The best thing about the book is that it is a so-called locked room mystery, something I always find fun and challenging.

I think there is hope for the series with a bit of character development and creativity.

It is a book that fans of Downton Abbey and other upstairs/downstairs novels might enjoy. Very light reading.

Here is a link to the book.


Friday Book Whimsy: Belgravia

searchPeople who, like me, are still mourning the loss of our Sunday evenings with the Crawley family – Lord and Lady Grantham, the unpredictable Lady Mary and her sisters, the irascible yet loveable dowager countess, and the always loyal downstairs staff – take heart. Downton Abbey’s creator Julian Fellowes has written a book just for the likes of us.

Belgravia’s story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The Duchess of Richmond holds a ball that is famous for decades as the highlight of social elegance. In addition to the standard social set, the duchess invited several newly-rich industrialists, shocking many of the aristocrats. A romance that is set in place at this ball between the son of an aristocrat and the daughter of a wealthy but not aristocratic working class man and woman sets off a string of intrigue, romance, scandal, and family secrets that would make Dowager Lady Grantham blush.

Fast forward to the 1840s, when secrets are revealed that set the story into play. Much like Downton Abbey, Belgravia has both the upstairs and the downstairs drama. The story, while admittedly predictable, is still fun and dramatic and a fascinating look at the mores of the the early- to mid-19th Century, when the Industrial Age was making common people wealthy.

Belgravia won’t win any literary awards. Fellowes’ novel reads more like a screenplay than a novel. But the characters are interesting and it’s fun to get a peek into their world, and the world around them. Unlike the Downton Abbey downstairs staff, the maids and cooks and butlers are not so good and open to corruption if the price is right. Lots of dastardly deeds.

A fun read for fans of Downton Abbey.

Here is link to the book.  


Goodbye M’ Lord and M’ Lady

0922_FL-downton-abbey_2000x1125-1940x1091Last night I sat in front of the television for nearly two hours watching the final episode of Downton Abbey. It’s true. I will no longer be able to watch Lord Grantham as he struggles to figure out how to navigate the 20th Century, which carries with it things like hair dryers and women having lives beyond their families and being stuffed and tied into corsets. Lady Grantham’s tilted head and unending smile will no longer be there to take the edge off my day. The Crawley sisters’ bickering won’t be reminding me that sibling rivalries aren’t just a thing of the 21st Century. And Lady Violet. Oh, how I will miss Lady Violet.

Ever since the very first time I heard those bells tingle in the show’s opening sequence six years ago, my life was changed in a small way. And I’m not sure why. It was like entering into a dream.

I never yearned to be one of the Crawleys. I would have gotten lost in that gigantic home. Heavens knows I can’t even imagine having to wear formal wear EVERY SINGLE NIGHT to dinner. Life in the late 19th and early 20th Century was no piece of cake, even for families like the one in Downton.

Still, I enjoyed watching the show. There will be a hole in my Sunday nights that won’t be easily filled. Between the ending of football season and the series finale of Downton Abbey, I might have to take up embroidery.

It is no exaggeration to say that I cried throughout the entire episode last night. Seriously, from the beginning until the end. The fact that I was having to say goodbye to the Crawleys was no small part of the reason I cried. But Julian Fellowes (the series’ creator and writer) simply handed me a finale that was so flipping satisfying in every way.

I recognize, of course, that real life doesn’t always wrap up so conveniently and satisfactorily in 90 minutes as did the life in that little town in York. But I think that is why I found the show so incredibly addicting. It was nice to have drama and comedy and angst and family rivalries for six weeks in the middle of winter wrapped in such a beautiful package.

Because Downton Abbey was nothing if not beautiful. The clothes were lovely. The house was unimaginably beautiful. The manners, the British accents, the scenery – all made for astoundingly beautiful visuals.

For the most part, the characters were kind and smart. In the first season, I kept waiting for the wealthy Crawley family to be evil and greedy. That’s Hollywood’s typical depiction of the rich and powerful.  But no; instead, they were serious about trying to make a good life for the people for whom Lord Grantham was responsible. Not just his staff, but the people of the village.

The staff downstairs had their own interesting characters, story lines, saints and devils. I enjoyed getting a glimpse each week into what went on in the way of providing service for a family in a house the size of a small village. It was fun to root for the good guys and boo for the bad guys.

At the end of the day, I have enjoyed watching this beautiful program for the past six seasons, and am sad to say goodbye. But I feel like I’m leaving Downton and all the people there in good hands.

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