Monday, May 23, 2022

Mystery Monday: Great WWII Mysteries

Mystery Monday: Great WWII Mysteries 

Mystery fiction written during World War II either provided an escapist novel with no mention of the war or a plot intricately tied to the war. Most of the authors popular during the Golden Era of Detective Fiction that encompassed the 1940s did a little of both. Three such authors are Agatha Christie, Christiana Brands, and Dorothy M. Hughes. 

N or M, published by Christie in 1941 featured the first novel of a “grown-up” version of Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, husband and wife amateur sleuths who first appeared in 1922. The title is taken from a catechism in the Book of Common Prayer which asks “What is your Christian Name?” Answer: N or M; the initials representing the Latin “nomen veil nomina” meaning “name or names.” 

Years have passed since the couple’s career with British intelligence, and the Second World War has broken out when they are approached by a secret agent to go undercover to find German spies and fifth columnists. Filled with cryptic messages and clues, Tommy and Tuppence make their way to the fictional seaside town of Leahampton to investigate the situation. Twists and turns abound, but the Beresfords eventually find their man…and woman. 

Reviews of the book were glowing including one by E.R. Punshon touting “Mrs. Christie shows herself as ingenious as ever, and one admires especially the way in which the hero snores himself out of captivity.” Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? 

Interestingly, Christie was the subject of an MI5 investigation after naming one of the novel’s characters Major Bletchley. Their fears were unfounded as she revealed the as one of her “least lovable characters,” the man had been named area of Milton Keynes where she’d been stuck during a train journey. 

Another fantastic novel is Christiana Brands 1944 Green for Danger. Set in a rural British wartime hospital, the story was heavily praised for its clever plot and interesting characters. The head nurse is killed after reporting that the death of a patient under anesthesia was not accidental. Another near murder leaves a nurse dangerously ill, so Inspector Cockrill re-stages the operation to reveal the killer. The entire time German V-1 rockets shower the countryside and all must remain calm. The title for the book refers to the color-coding used on anesthetists’ gas bottles. 

The third and final novel is a thriller published in 1943. The Blackbirder follows the exploits of a young woman who has fled occupied Paris and her Nazi-sympathizer uncle and finds herself as an illegal immigrant in New York City. Because of her status she tries to keep a low profile, but when a man she knew in France is found dead outside her apartment, she must once again flee for her life. In order to leave the country, she must find The Blackbirder, a man who guides people across the US-Mexican border, but in the meantime, she must stay ahead of the Gestapo and the FBI she thinks is trailing her. Plenty of shadowy figures come and go, and tension is high as readers wonder who is trustworthy. 

Hughes wrote fourteen novels and a volume of poetry, but she also held positions with the Los Angeles Times, (New York) Herald Tribune, and (Albuquerque) Tribune as a professional crime-fiction reviewer. The Blackbirder is one of the author’s few novels with a white, female protagonist, instead preferring to create characters vastly different from herself such as psychotic men, black men, Spanish men, Native Americans, jazz musicians, soldiers, and doctors. 

What’s your favorite mystery novel published during WWII? 


About Under Cover

It’s been six months since Ruth Brown followed clues to England and discovered the identity of her sister’s killer. War continues to rage as Ruth reports on food shortages, the black market, the evacuation of London’s children, and the bravery of the British people. 

When a bombing raid destroys her home and unearths a twenty-year-old skeleton in the cellar, her reporter’s senses tingle in anticipation of solving another mystery. Unfortunately, the by-the-book detective inspector assigned to the case is not interested in her theories. As Ruth investigates the case on her own, she butts heads with the handsome policeman. 

Will she get to the bottom of the story before the killer strikes again?

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