August 12, 2023

The Mitford Murders

The Mitford Murders
Jessica Fellowes


(August 12, 2023)

If you’re in the mood for a solid, golden-age mystery, this is the ticket. It’s got upstairs and downstairs, crime on the railroad train, the niece of the creator of Downton Abbey, and a denouement at a ball. And it’s got Mitfords, ranging in age from debutante (Nancy) to infant (Deebo).

There are problems. The book is designed to culminate at Nancy’s first ball, which is fun but which leaves the other sisters mostly in the shadows. Nancy herself keeps shading into Nancy Drew; this is a hazard because, in a way, she’s our Basic Mitford. Muv and Favre are actually pretty good. But we don’t really get much out of her being The Nancy Mitford. To be fair, I think Fellowes does a nice job of little Unity, stewing by herself in a corner. A decade and change later, we know she will shoot herself out of love for Hitler, but getting there is, really, the point of historical fiction.

There are virtues, too. The book is filled with down-market characters who are drawn and are not picaresque, and that’s something even Sayers seldom could manage.