Early in 1942, American soldiers and airmen began pouring into England in what Britons termed the Friendly Invasion. In a charming cozy mystery, Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders, Tessa Arlen dramatizes the impact of the Yank invasion on the tiny village of Little Buffenden. While bombs fall nightly on London and the island’s other towns and cities, life in the bucolic hamlet is disrupted by the arrival of hundreds of American pilots and ground crew at an airfield hastily constructed on adjoining farmland. And it’s only natural that the Yanks would fall under suspicion when first one, then another young woman of the village are brutally murdered.
A natural amateur sleuth
Poppy Redfern is a volunteer Air Raid Preparations (ARP) Warden. Fresh from training under fire in the docklands of East London, she returns to her village to walk the streets and lanes after dark each evening to ensure that the inhabitants strictly observe the blackout regulations. And as she is out and about every night, Poppy hears all the vicious gossip that boils up when Doreen Newcombe, a young woman of her age is strangled to death behind a bush. To nearly everyone in the village, it seems obvious that the murderer was Doreen’s American boyfriend—but not to Poppy. She’s a natural sleuth and sets out to do the job of investigating that the local police seem unable to do.
Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders by Tessa Arlen (2019) 322 pages ★★★★☆
A cozy mystery that doesn’t quite match the definition
Stricty speaking, Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders isn’t a cozy mystery, charming though it is. It just looks that way up to a point. The action is confined to the tiny village where Poppy was raised, and she knows all three young women (yes, three) attacked by the “Little Buffenden Strangler.” Poppy is, of course, an amateur, as the formula requires. And there’s nothing but the merest hint of sex. After all, these strait-laced villagers are offended by any mention of the frightful subject. But violence? Yes. Things will get decidedly dicey for young Poppy before the tale is done.
The novel is, unsurprisingly, a whodunit. And, predictably again, nearly everyone in the hamlet becomes a suspect as Poppy’s investigation unfolds. So do the hundreds of men of the US Army Air Forces stationed at the nearby base. It’s a puzzle, all right. And to sift through the pieces on the table and assemble a convincing picture, Poppy must put herself at risk, again and again.
About the author
In the short bio on her author website, Tessa Arlen writes that she “is the author of the critically acclaimed Lady Montfort mystery series—Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman was a finalist for the 2016 Agatha Award Best First Novel. She is also the author of Poppy Redfern: A Woman of World War II mystery series. And the author of the historical fiction: In Royal Service to the Queen. Tessa lives in the Southwest [of England] with her family and two corgis where she gardens in summer and writes in winter.”
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