Toronto author Maureen Jennings is no stranger to the mystery genre. Her celebrated Detective Murdoch novels are the basis for Murdoch Mysteries, a television series that has had success around the world. While she is still involved in the show – season five is slated for production this fall – Jennings has also embarked on a new literary project, the Season of Darkness trilogy.
In the first novel, Jennings paints a vivid picture of life in the English countryside during the Second World War. The sleepy Shropshire town of Whitchurch has been transformed, with Land Army girls from the city working the farms in place of the young men now off fighting, and young soldiers reeling from their experiences on the beaches of Dunkirk. A large internment camp has been constructed for hundreds of German men who made the mistake of not getting their papers in order while living in England before the war. People go about their day-to-day business under the new reality of ration tickets and blackout protocols, and suspicion and paranoia surrounding even one’s closest neighbours is rampant, as are fears of enemy invasion. Detective Inspector Tom Tyler suddenly finds his typically tedious job far more challenging when one of the Land Army girls is murdered.
There are seemingly endless motives among the large cast of characters. In her usual style, Jennings introduces disparate story threads and then weaves them cleverly together as she pulls readers through the investigation. Along with her detailed and well-researched portrayal of English life in the early 1940s, she peppers her story with false leads and plenty of twists. Jennings’ characters are well conceived and precisely depicted, from their slang, habits, and mannerisms to their appearance and motives – though at times the sheer amount of detail slows down the narrative. Thankfully all those threads and subplots come together in the second half of the novel, making for a satisfying and engaging read.