Confession time—I am a Downton Abbey addict. And in fact, I made a trip to Highclere Castle (where Downton is filmed) to walk the rooms and grounds and soak in the atmosphere. I even took it one step further with a trip to Bampton (the setting for the outdoor scenes). This is a quiet little village near Oxford that has built a small tourist industry around Downton. You can imagine my thrill as I got to stand in the church where Lady Mary got married twice. (Please don’t judge me.)
The release of the Downton movie brings the Crawley family up to 1927, almost ten years since the end of WWI, which officially ended on November 11, 1918. This period between the wars was a dramatic time of trying to recover from painful losses and find a path to a future, which unfortunately planted the seeds for the next great war. Many mystery series take place during this time and then continue into the WWII years. It seems appropriate to focus on them in preparation for Remembrance Day/Veteran’s Day on November 11.
Rhys Bowen’s The Royal Spyness Series takes place in the 1930s and features Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie (known simply as Georgiana), thirty-fourth in line for the British throne. The first 11 books in the series were narrated by the late Golden Voice Katherine Kellgren. The most recent additions are narrated by Jasmine Blackborow.
LOVE AND DEATH AMONG THE CHEETAHS (Book #13) takes us to Kenya in the mid-1930s. Author Bowen paints a realistic picture of how the British settlers treated the local populations. It is eye-opening, or should I say ear-opening, to hear both the racist and the pro-Nazi sentiments spoken with such highbrow British accents. More amusing is the portrayal of the Duke of Windsor and his American mistress—and hearing what others were supposedly thinking at the time about this pairing, which shook the British Empire and had worldwide consequences.
Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series starts in 1913. The series, which continues to WWII, provides us with a view into Maisie’s maturation as well as insights into WWI, the Great Depression, the Spanish Civil War, and WWII. The most recent addition to the series, THE AMERICAN AGENT, takes place in London in 1940. Narrator Orlagh Cassidy returns to voice Maisie, her regular crew of family and friends, and new characters. Cassidy certainly gets to put her performance of many different dialects into practice in the Maisie Dobbs’ series.
This historic period has also been illuminated by the prolific mother/son author duo, Charles Todd. In the latest in the Ian Rutledge series, THE BLACK ASCOT, which takes place in 1921, narrator Simon Prebble once again performs Inspector Rutledge as he delves into a notorious case from 1910. Charles Todd fans might be interested to know that the audiobook of the latest addition to the nurse Bess Crawford series, A CRUEL DECEPTION, was released in late October.
Audiobooks have the power to draw listeners into the atmosphere of the place and time, and to heighten the state of fear and hope the characters experience. It makes the experience of war and its aftermath that much more real. All good to consider as we commemorate November 11.