No Known Grave by Maureen Jennings

No Known Grave is part of  the series,  The Detective Tom Tyler Mysteries. The two previous titles are Season of Darkness and Beware This Boy.  Maureen Jennings is also the author of the well-known Detective Murdoch Mysteries the first of which was published in 1997. In 2007 three of the latter were made into movies of the week and in 2011 the Murdoch Mysteries TV series was produced. The latter has been shown in the UK, in the United States as The Artful Detective, in much of Europe and in Canada on CBC TV.

The Detective Tom Tyler Mysteries are set in World War II England. This third in the series takes place at St. Anne’s Convalescent Hospital, Ludlow, Shropshire and begins on July 15, 1942. The dedication for the book lists “the town of Ludlow, our second home.” In an Author’s Note, Jennings explains that “St. Anne’s No Known GraveConvalescent Hospital is a figment of my imagination, as are the people who inhabit it. However, the town of Ludlow is real and has been for centuries. The events that are described in the letters that Tyler receives really happened, and I have rendered them as faithfully as I could. If in this small way I have created interest in that tragic event, I am glad. We must never forget.”

The house was an estate and the original bedrooms have been converted into wards. There were thirteen men on the second floor and four women on the third. The four women were in the former servants quarters but their small number compared to the male patients prevented them from having pleasanter rooms. The house had only been donated for the duration of the war and the sisters were grateful for the use of it.

In the first chapter we meet two of the patients at St. Anne’s: Daisy Stevens and Barbara Oakshutt. Daisy has just been given a wake up call because she goes to an early morning massage class. She pads over to the washstand to wash her face.

“The new skin on her cheek was still tender. Then she sat down at the dresser, examined the row of lipsticks courtesy of the Yank packages, and selected one. This was definitely a day for “Tru-Crimson.” She felt in need of a boost. …She had well-shaped, full lips that she was secretly rather proud of. At least they were untouched by the accident. That’s how she referred to it in her mind, although strictly speaking the bombing raid was no accident at all. It was premeditated and quite intentional. The only “accidental” part was that she’d been caught by flying shrapnel.
Her twenty-second birthday was this weekend. …She preferred to dress in her WREN outfit…the familar uniform gave her a feeling of purpose.”

Gradually, we are introduced to the other patients: Nigel Melrose, Victor Clark, and Eddie Prescott who share a room. Jeremy Bancroft stops by in his wheelchair and Melrose offers to take him down to breakfast. We learn that Victor Clark does not speak. Clark hands clothes from a chair to Eddie Prescott: “baggy black-and-white-checked trousers, a brown striped shirt, and a paisley waistcoat” then reaches for Clark’s shoulder.”Lead on. The lame leading the blind. What a bloody joke.” Through dialogue and description,  we continue to meet more characters and learn about each of them. The writing flows smoothly and the reader is quickly invested in the setting, the characters and the developing story.

Detective Inspector Tom Tyler comes to Ludlow to make a new start as the saying goes. You will very likely want to read the first two books in the series first so I will say very little about his personal life here except to say that he has one true love in his life: I’m sure you prefer to find out who that is for yourself.

He’d been in Ludlow three days when he got a telephone call at the house the local council provided for the senior officers of the constabulary. The call was from the almoner at the nearby convalescent hospital.

“The voice on the other end sounded far away. “Inspector, this is Sister Rebecca Meade. I am at St. Anne’s hospital. Can you come right away? There has been an, er, incident.” Suddenly her voice got louder. She’s moved the mouthpiece closer.  “There are two victims. One was a member of the staff, Sergeant Jock McHattie. The other is his son, Ben. They have been shot.”

I turns out that the car for the station is being repaired and the only choice is the motor cycle and sidecar in the shed.

“Damn it, I haven’t been on a motorcycle since I was a lad. I don’t think this is the time for a refresher course.”  Tyler tells Sergeant Rowell with whom he shares the house.

“The new WAPC is a qualified driver as I understand it. She’s reporting for duty this morning. She could take you.”

Tyler stared at him. “What the hell – I’m supposed to show up at a crime scene on a motorcycle? And with a woman rider.”

“I’m sure the young lady will be highly competant.” Rowell gave him an anxious smile. “These days, nobody is surprised at unorthodox travel arrangements.”

“Maybe I can hire a tractor.”

Mystery, humour, great setting and unusual characters. All the ingredients for a great read!