In honor of Women’s History Month, I'm recommending four historical mystery audiobooks that bring us strong, confident female protagonists performed by accomplished narrators. Two of the featured audiobooks start in the year 1947 and move forward from there. Why 1947? The world at that time was still very much beginning its post-WWII recovery, and two authors chose to launch their stories from that challenging year.
First up is Jacqueline Winspear’s new Earphones Award-winning stand-alone, THE WHITE LADY, performed by Orlagh Cassidy. Winspear, author of the beloved Maisie Dobbs series, introduces us to a new heroine, the brave Elinor White. While the story begins in England in 1947, it takes listeners back to when Elinor was recruited, as an adolescent, to join a resistance group in Belgium during WWI called La Dame Blanche. With Cassidy’s seamless narration, listeners are taken backward and forward in time, through Elinor’s work in WWI, WWII, and to the present day. Winspear’s ability to re-create for listeners what life was like in each of those times and settings is matched by Cassidy’s ability to convey the fear, tension, and sense of loss in surviving two wars. While one might think that post-war would be a time of joy, celebration, and financial growth, Winspear reveals that the continued rationing of food and other hardships in England make perfect fodder for organized crime to step in. Throughout, Winspear partners with Cassidy to provide listeners with great insight into the heroic and often unrecognized role women play in wartime. Listeners interested in this period might delve into the newsletter archive on Winspear’s website, where she shares the research that formed the foundation for the book.
Still in 1947, but now in New York City, we have another Earphones Award winner: SECRETS TYPED IN BLOOD, Pentecost and Parker, Book 3, narrated by Kirsten Potter. This one is much more of a quick-paced and entertaining noir series featuring a duo of female private detectives, Willowjean “Will” Parker and her boss, Lillian Pentecost—"the greatest detective in New York City." As the voice of the series, Kirsten Potter creates well-matched voices for the lead characters and for the many secondary characters. Listeners also hear about post-WWII New York, including a mention of Jackie Robinson’s debut playing for the Dodgers at Ebbets Field. Listeners can pick up on enough backstory to step into this third book in the series but might benefit from listening to the series in order, beginning with FORTUNE FAVORS THE DEAD.
While staying in New York City, we jump ahead to 1958, with THE SOCIALITE’S GUIDE TO MURDER by S.K. Golden, read by Amara Jasper. Listeners interested in the fashions and lifestyles of the wealthy in the late 1950s will appreciate the descriptions provided by protagonist Evelyn Elizabeth Grace Murphy, daughter of the Pinnacle Hotel’s owner. Evelyn may be rich and spoiled, but she's also very clever and uses her intimate knowledge of the hotel's secrets and its residents to ferret out clues during a murder investigation. This is a fun, light listen providing a bit of historical context. Narrator Jasper provides pitch-perfect voices for Evelyn and for the many male and female characters.
Hotels seem to inspire crimes and mysteries. We move to 1968 London and again find ourselves in a hotel setting in DEATH AT THE SAVOY, Priscilla Tempest Book 1, by Prudence Emery and Ron Base, narrated by Eunice Wong. Listeners get to hear about the famous and the infamous who are staying at the hotel and drinking in the bar. The protagonist, chief suspect, and amateur detective is Priscilla Tempest, a Canadian working as the head of the Savoy’s press office. In order to save her job and her life, Priscilla must investigate how a notorious arms dealer met his demise. Wong very effectively differentiates characters by accent and tone, creating the many personalities that populate this fun romp. The second book in the series, SCANDAL AT THE SAVOY, is due to be released this month.