A really nice historical mystery…
I am a huge fan of historical mysteries, and so I was really happy to receive an advance review copy of Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders, which is set in England in 1929-1930. Suitcase Murders (as I’m going to call it, because the title is too long to type all the time!) is a wonderfully witty and charming book, which I would have enjoyed just for the dry British humor (shades of PG Wodehouse), all by itself.
But it also has a really nice, almost police procedural feel to it. And I like police procedurals too, although in Suitcase Murders, we have barrister Arthur Skelton; his clerk, Edgar; and his wife, Mila, as the protagonists, rather than a squad of detectives. In fact, although the time and setting are completely different (!!!), Suitcase Murders really reminded me of some of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels – the ones where there is a main case, but also several smaller cases woven in and around the main case, and as a reader, you’re never quite sure until the end whether the cases are going to end up linked together, or be resolved independently. I loved following along on those, and I loved following along on Suitcase Murders too.
As far as the story itself, the main case involves the dismembered body of a woman, found (as you can probably guess) in a suitcase. She was married to an Egyptian doctor, Dr Ibrahim Aziz, and he is quickly arrested. Tensions run high, things are confusing (is Aziz’s wife really dead, and if not, why was she “visiting” a long-dead aunt), and issues of race and xenophobia come into play as well, but Aziz is lucky enough to have his solicitor bring in Arthur Skelton, and the plot takes off from there. And of course, there are some nice secondary cases, including the one right at the start of the book, which set the stage nicely for those of us who hadn’t read the first book in the series, and was also pretty darn funny.
All-in-all, I really liked this book, and as a bonus (!) there is a short but nice historical note hidden in the Acknowledgements at the end, talking about author David Stafford’s sources for the early field of forensics, Egyptian diplomatic incidents, early aviation, and so on. I’m a little embarrassed because I gave a five-star rating to the last book I read, and I try to fight star-flation a little bit, and not give too many five-star ratings. But I couldn’t find any way around giving Suitcase Murders five stars as well, so that is just the way it will have to be. I’m now going to go read the first book in the series, and also hope that Stafford will write more in this series as well. And my thanks to publishers Allison & Busby, and to NetGalley for the advance review copy.