CBR Bingo: Series (Sparks & Bainbridge Mysteries #1)
I needed some new, lighter mysteries to get me through the dwindling days of early autumn. This popped up in my library recommendations, and since there’s a few of them to work through, I figured I’d give it a try. While there’s no shortage of books set during WWII, there are fewer that actually work through the aftermath of the war, which is its own very distinctive setting.
The war is over and won, but London is still in tatters from the Blitz, and its citizens still live under rationing. And yet life and love goes on, and a pair of enterprising women decide to assist in the latter, particularly: Gwendolyn Bainbridge, the young widow of a wealthy officer, and Iris Sparks, who worked in the field for British Intelligence, have set up the Right Sort Marriage Bureau, a matchmaking service for Londoners seeking to find romance as they pick up their lives. “The world must be peopled!” is their mantra to one another (a fitting line from the best of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies). Both women, in their own way, are astute readers of other people, even if their own romantic lives leave something to be desired.
But when Tillie, a clever young shopgirl, is murdered before her first date with the client they’ve match her to, Gwen and Iris are faced with a decision: when the young accountant in question is arrested for the murder, do they leave him to hang, or do they investigate? Well, it would be a short and unhappy novel if they let him hang, so of course they get involved, and mix it up with both policemen and gangsters and a plot to counterfeit rationing coupons for clothing, as they seek to find out who really murdered Tillie. Do they get to the bottom of it all? Of course! Do they have both fun and misadventures along the way? Naturally!
It’s a light and enjoyable novel, and made a good enough case to read Book #2. Occasionally the language feels a touch anachronistic, with modern phrases sneaking their way in, which jarred me out of the moment a bit here and there. Gwen also verges on a touch too saintly at times. But she and Iris have good repartee, and Montclair is clearly building a solid set of secondary characters around them, from the detective who is Iris’s ex-fiance, to Sally (aka Salvatore) who looks like a colossal brute of a man but who prefers writing plays to helping Sparks and Bainbridge collect on payments from delinquent clients (but, a theatre man to his core, he plays the heavy very well, aided by his own background as a soldier during the war). Gwen’s tense relationship with her in-laws, who have legal custody of her son, will also clearly be a running thread as well.
I’d give it 3.5 stars, but rounded up to 4 for taking on a time period often neglected in fiction, and making really good use of it as more than just window-dressing.