While March 8, 2022, marked International Women’s Day, we celebrate Women’s History Month throughout March, which provides a great reason to spotlight mystery audiobooks that feature strong women protagonists in historical settings.
When one thinks of women, history, and mystery, the first name that comes to mind is Agatha Christie. Her remarkable bibliography continues to shine in updated publications of books, audiobooks, and new movie releases. She has also influenced many authors who have used her genius to inspire new characters and stories. This is the case with Colleen Cambridge’s MURDER AT MALLOWAN HALL, read by Jennifer M. Dixon. This is Book 1 in a series featuring Phyllida Bright, a former Army nurse who is now the very capable housekeeper at Mallowan Hall, the fictional residence of Max Mallowan and his wife, the famous Agatha Christie. A dead body is found, clues and red herrings abound, and detective work ensues. The story is set in the 1930s, and listeners will find themselves intrigued by the upstairs/downstairs nature of the relationships as they are revealed. Dixon provides a pitch-perfect tone and accent for Phyllida, an engaging character who listeners will enjoy getting to know.
Moving from the 1930s to the 1940s, two series additions feature strong, intelligent, and brave female protagonists.
The first is Jacqueline Winspear with her Maisie Dobbs series. The newest in the series (Book 17) is Earphones Award Winner A SUNLIT WEAPON, read by Orlagh Cassidy, who has become the voice for Maisie Dobbs. Focusing on the lesser-known story of female pilots in the UK during WWII, Winspear informs and surprises at every turn. Her attention to detail and talent at drawing fully painted scenes, partnered with Cassidy’s toolkit of voices, transports listeners to that period and all its intense emotions. Maisie Dobbs and the female pilots represent the ways women in that period were stretching boundaries due to the exigencies of war. Winspear also shines a light on racism in the American military. Cassidy beautifully meets the challenge of convincingly performing men, women, and children, as well as American, Scottish, and British accents. An engaging, informative, and emotional listening experience.
Staying in the same time period but traveling to the United States, the latest addition to Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope series is THE HOLLYWOOD SPY. Narrator Susan Duerden returns to bring to life the characters in this WWII series highlighting the role that women played in the British spy game. Maggie, like Maisie, pushes the boundaries of the role of women during the 1940s. Duerden has become the voice of Maggie Hope, communicating all of her courage and feisty spirit. Duerden’s talent with accents is demonstrated in her performance of Maggie, an American-born British agent, and all of the American characters.
For some of us, thinking of the 1960s as history is a bit shocking. But when you think about it, the '60s, with all of the openness, creativity, and youth culture, are a wild, colorful canvas to draw on. It was also the beginning of women’s liberation—bra burning, etc. Set in that decade, we have Book 6 in the Brighton Series by Elly Griffiths, THE MIDNIGHT HOUR. While the previous audiobooks in the series were read by James Langton, this entry is narrated by Beth Eyre. Fans of the series may be jolted by the change in narrator. Griffiths, in an author’s note, explains the shift to a female narrator. This series, which takes place in Brighton, England, features a private eye firm led by female investigators Emma Holmes and Sam Collins. The tension is heightened by the relationship between Emma and her husband, Brighton’s police chief. For those not familiar with the series, this one could be a good entry point.