Up to now, Sara Sheridan has been more known for her historical novels but Brighton Belle marks her move into crime fiction and sets the scene for the start of a new series: the Mirabelle Bevan Mystery Series.
1951 sees Mirabelle Bevan retired from the Secret Service and, following the sudden loss of her lover and the promise of a stable domestic life, decamped to Brighton, working for McGuigan & McGuigan Debt Recovery. Just as her boss – Big Ben McGuigan (and the only McGuigan) – takes an unprecedented short leave due to escalating man flu, in comes a new case with which Mirabelle has to deal on her own. Bert Jennings has arrived from London to request McGuigan’s services for recovery of a debt where a pregnant Hungarian refugee, Romana Laszlo, has done a bunk to Brighton, owing him in excess of four hundred pounds as the interest mounts up. In McGuigan’s absence, Mirabelle starts to work the case and soon finds that her administrative and policy-making Secret Service experience proves useful in her new civilian role, including in an operational capacity. Not alone for too long, Mirabelle is joined by the younger and curious Vesta Churchill, an insurance clerk from a business down the corridor. On times, reluctantly drawn in to the ensuing investigation, Vesta proves her worth beyond being a curator of biscuits (to which she tucks in most readily). The debt case escalates into prostitution, fraud, money laundering, betting scams and murder before you can say ‘Austerity Britain’. And the dark shadow of WWII is never far away.
From a female author this is ‘Girl Power’ writ large with a female protagonist and a female assistant/side-kick. Brighton Belle may be described as cosy crime fiction, but beware as it’s not without bite. We may have those female leads – hurrah! – but the sexism (and racism) of the time is all too evident in the way these women are spoken to and treated.
Brighton Belle is the type of story that moves along at some speed, concentrates on plot and is told through the omniscient point of view. Both Mirabelle and Vesta are a delight, but don’t expect an easy ride buoyed on fluffy cushions. Sheridan is not afraid to be realistic and lose a character or two, and in the most heartbreaking of circumstances.
In Brighton Belle we have a great introduction to a series. I hope that Sheridan takes the opportunity with the second to paint on a broader canvas for both character and character development as this would consolidate the series well.
Not as dark as the novels of Elizabeth Wilson, Sheridan’s Mirabelle Bevan Mystery Series will appeal to those who love a crime novel set in Austerity Britain, with attention to detail and realism. Let’s hear it for – and more from – the girls!