The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes Sphere, £12.99, 415 pages  There are several ready-made markets for this novel by the niece of the writer Julian Fellowes: the Downton Abbey audience (who will note the surname shared with that show’s creator), aficionados of Golden Age crime, and those with an appetite for the privileged world of the Mitford sisters. In 1919, Louisa Cannon jumps at the idea of working with the upper-crust Mitfords in Oxfordshire, finding the youthful Nancy already an accomplished storyteller. But the death of a nurse, Florence Nightingale Shore (a real-life murder victim and the goddaughter of her celebrated namesake), has Louisa and Nancy on the track of a killer in a Christie-esque narrative that offers a solution to an unsolved crime from the past. The plan of the series is to focus on a different Mitford sister with each book (the spiky Nancy is credibly characterised here). On the strength of this initial entry, commercial success is assured — though the Hitler-admiring Unity will be a challenge.

Damaged by Martina Cole Headline, £20, 357 pages  Nothing cosily Golden Age in the caustic work of Martina Cole. In Damaged, DCI Kate Burrows, although retired, is enlisted to help hunt down a serial killer. Kate’s personal life with former gangster Patrick Kelly is thrown off balance when a young man appears (with his untrustworthy wife) claiming to be Patrick’s son. Kate is faced with two problems — one of them having a notably higher body count. The unarguable success of Cole’s sizable tally of crime novels must be a source of envy to other practitioners. From the beginning, she has enjoyed massive sales for her gritty fiction, creating a new genre: the tough East-end crime novel with a single-minded (if damaged) woman at the centre, usually sexually involved with dangerous (but often attractive) villains. Her copper protagonist Kate has the same DNA as her lawbreaking women, and it is Cole’s ear for everyday speech (as much as her in-your-face, unvarnished storytelling) that grants her books such impact.

 

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