My friend Sandra from Beauty Balm blog has been recommending the Mirabelle Bevan series to me for ages. She kindly loaned me the first two and I have finally got around to reading the first one which I thoroughly enjoyed.
I heard the author, Sara Sheridan at the Edinburgh Book Festival festival recently where she spoke about Mirabelle Bevan’s origin. Her father recalled seeing a well-dressed woman on Brighton Beach in the 1950s dodging the deckchair attendant. He always wondered why, when it looked as though she didn’t need to. The author decided to write a short story with a possible explanation and Mirabelle Bevan was born.
From the back of the book
1951. Brighton. With the war over and the Nazis brought to justice at Nuremberg, Mirabelle Bevan (Secret Service, retired) thinks her skills are no longer required. After her lover’s death she retires to the seaside to put the past behind her and takes a job at a debt collection agency run by the charismatic Big Ben McGuigan. But when the case of Romana Laszlo – a pregnant Hungarian refugee – comes in, Mirabelle soon discovers that her specialist knowledge is vital. With enthusiastic assistance from insurance clerk Vesta Churchill, they follow a mysterious trail of gold sovereigns and corpses that only they can unravel.
I think it was the author herself at that book festival session who described this series of books as ‘cosy mysteries’. I have to confess that I didn’t really know what defined a cosy mystery. On looking it up, I discovered it is a mystery story often set in a small community, where the crime is solved by amateur detectives who are often women and there doesn’t tend to be much emphasis on violence. Mirabelle certainly fits this category as she works in a debt collection agency and is not a detective or private investigator. She put me in mind of a younger and infinitely more glamorous Miss Marple. She’s a sharp, quick-witted woman who doesn’t seem afraid to bend the law more than a little to find out what she needs to know.
Set just post-war there were still echoes of the horrors of what people experienced in during the war throughout the story and links to the past. There were experiences which were hinted at but that the characters did not talk about. I am very intrigued to know what Mirabelle really did in the war as I don’t believe she was only a secretary in Whitehall. I would really like to know more about that and her relationship with her deceased lover Jack Duggan. The good news for me then is that there are, to date, five more books in the series.
I must mention the racism experienced by Vesta Churchill, a black woman who works with Mirabelle. It was jarring and quite shocking to see how she was regarded and treated. I think that she and Mirabelle are going to make a smart and sassy team though.
Brighton Belle is a well paced and well plotted mystery story, with plenty of danger and excitement. With its combination of 50s glamour and style and two female protagonists, I can see it’s the start of a series I’m going to really enjoy.
Brighton Belle was published by Constable (Little Brown) in January 2016 and is available in all formats. You can buy it at all good bookshops or order a copy online here: Brighton Belle