Monday, November 4, 2019

"Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders"

Tessa Arlen 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.

Arlen lives in the Southwest with her family and two corgis where she gardens in summer and writes in winter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders and reported the following:
From page 69:
I counted out coins and Mrs. Glossop’s hand came down to stop them spinning on the smooth wood of the counter with such finality that I knew she was far more annoyed about Grandad’s Sunday lunch-after-church-idea than I had first thought. But I didn’t want her to lead the village in a witch-hunt against the Americans either. “Sergeant Perrone has been detained on suspicion of murder, but he has not yet been tried and found guilty. None of us can be sure that he killed Doreen and Ivy. I hope he gets a fair trial,” I said in what I hoped was a conciliatory and reasonable tone. She didn’t care for it.

“He’s being court-martialed by them, not tried in an English court which he should be after killing two English girls.”

“Either way he is innocent until proved guilty...”

A sharp intake a breath from Mrs. G. and I looked up to find her watching me intently. “You don’t believe he did it, do you?” There was no point in denying it. “I don’t see how he can have done both murders. After Doreen’s death all the Americans were confined to the base. You have to hand it to them; their security is amazing. Have you seen their perimeter fence?” She stared at me, her face like stone, so I explained. “He would have had to climb a ten-foot woven wire fence crowned by four or five strands of barbed wire.”

Fierce little eyes bored into mine. “Who then? You are not going to suggest it was one of us?”

Why not? I wanted to say. Why were we so above reproach?

Her stare was so intimidating that my voice almost shook as I answered her. “I am not suggesting anything Mrs. Glossop. I am only supporting my grandparent’s decision to try and heal a rift by including the young men up at the base in our village community. That is of course if they want to be part of it. After all they have come to help us win this war, haven’t they?”

I heard the breath hiss out of her like an old bicycle tire with a puncture, and her face became thoughtful as she folded her arms underneath her non-existent bosom. “Alright then,” she said as she tucked her chin down onto her chest and pondered the alternatives. “So, if you’re so keen on finding a culprit off base …what about that Mr. Ponsonby? Him who has retired, so he says, from London. Lives on Water Lane between the doctor and Mrs. Ritchie.”
In this excerpt from Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders, Poppy, a young WWII Air Raid Warden, is investigating the murder of two young women who have been dating American airmen from the base that has been built on the edge of the village. She is in conversation with the Little Buffenden’s postmistress, Enid Glossop, who is a leading light in the village.

Little Buffenden is an out of the way place, a backwater, and like all remote English villages, even in the 1940s, its inhabitants are an insular and unworldly group. A new airfield just outside their village has been a difficult adjustment for the villagers to make in the first place, but naturally patriotism wins the day—or at least it does outwardly. But the Friendly Invasion, as the press call the arrival of Britain’s American allies in the fight against Nazi Germany, is another matter entirely. Why, many ask themselves, aren’t our boys stationed at the airfield? What’s wrong the Royal Air Force?

As the villagers come to terms with the generous informality of the young American airmen who enjoy a pint or two in the village pub, share their ‘candy’ bars with the local schoolkids and take pretty young girls out for a night of dancing in the nearest town, Little Buffenden settles down to its daily round if not in open approval, at least in acceptance of what they call the Yank invasion. Then two popular local girls are murdered, and the village closes ranks. Of course, they tell themselves, the killer has to be an outsider, nothing like this has ever happened in Little Buffenden before.

The underlying theme of Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders is how the unknown and the different are often treated with suspicion and distrust: you are either village or you aren’t, and in Little Buffenden’s case, strangely enough, it has nothing to do with class. Who qualifies as a trusted member of rural Little Buffenden’s close knit community where families have existed together for generations? Certainly not the retired solicitor from London, nor Little Buffenden’s eccentric, but tolerated, vicar. Even the publican of the Rose and Crown is a ‘townie’ from Wickham. Fingers point and whispered gossip is rife in the morning queue at the local butcher’s shop. But independent minded Poppy blithely continues on her night patrols determined to discover the identity of the killer who she is quite convinced does not come from the American Air Force base.
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

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Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

Writers Read: Tessa Arlen.

--Marshal Zeringue