Five Dead Canaries
1916. In the third of Marston’s Home Front Detective series, six young female ‘canaries’ from a munitions factory supplying the Western Front are attending the birthday party of one of them, the lively Florrie, in the Golden Goose. The girls’ work is dangerous, not only because of frequent explosions in the factory, but also because the toxic TNT and sulphur turns their skin yellow, hence their nickname, ‘canaries’. At the height of the party, a hidden bomb explodes, killing five of the girls. Only Maureen, who left early, escapes.
Inspector Harvey Marmion and Sergeant Joe Keddy are put on the case. There is no shortage of suspects; plenty of men in the munitions factory know how to make a bomb. Or is a murderous Serbian spy or an Irish Nationalist the culprit? Or does someone have a personal grudge against one of the girls? The girls were all well-liked, hard-working girls from respectable families. As Marmion and Keedy begin to interview the girls’ families, cracks begin to appear…
I enjoyed this. Marston, as always, has a good historical understanding and plainly knows his stuff. We believe in the dangerous conditions in the factory, for example. And he’s spot on about the zeitgeist of the time, where what the man of the family says, goes; and the ambivalence of the Golden Goose’s male clientele about the canaries’ factory work. I particularly liked the detail of the Hayes Girls’ Football Club. This is also a world where detectives are often reliant on public transport to get them about and the privations of the war are wearing everyone down. This is very much a traditional whodunit, with the slow building-up of clues, the red herrings, and the unexpected twists and turns of the plot. It all makes for a most enjoyable read.