England Expects

Written by Sara Sheridan
Review by Tom Williams

In 1953, Mirabelle Bevan, ex-SOE agent, is running a debt collection agency in Brighton. She like to play detective, so when a woman asks her to recover the lost betting slips of her murdered brother, Mirabelle and her black assistant, Vesta, investigate. Mirabelle, with her helpful police friend, Superintendent McGregor, finds herself up to her neck in bodies. Is it all the work of the Masons? Can Mirabelle and McGregor ever be more than just good friends?

It’s a solid piece of detective fiction, but hardly a historical novel. Details are wrong. (“Red tops” and “dolly birds” were not terms in common use in 1953.) More significantly, there is no feel for the social realities of the time. A black woman working in 1953 Brighton would be a constant source of wonderment. Here, her colour is almost incidental. No one ever uses the N-word though this is the era of signs reading “No dogs, no blacks”. There’s a similar failure to understand the pervasiveness of sexism. Many pubs, even in the 1960s, wouldn’t serve unaccompanied women. Yet Mirabelle and Vesta simply have to put up with the odd bit of male condescension. Fun, but not history.