Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders (A Woman of WWII Mystery)

Written by Tessa Arlen
Review by Valerie Adolph

In the summer of 1942, England was war-weary, from heavily blitzed London to the serene village of Little Buffenden. Poppy Redfern, who has been an air raid warden in London, is required to return to her home village to take over a position there, where the possibility of a German air raid is not seen as a serious threat. As Poppy struggles to ensure blackouts are strictly maintained, the one aspect of war that upsets normal village life is the new US Air Force base nearby. Villagers are divided about the influx of young men with an apparently endless supply of energy, candy and nylons. Problems are exacerbated when two young village women are found murdered, and another is savagely attacked.

Evidence points to an American being the attacker in each case. But Poppy Redfern, patrolling the village each night with her hypochondriac assistant, thinks differently. Her opinion might, however, be affected by her relationship with young USAF Lieutenant Griff O’Neal. Even Poppy’s dog Bess is charmed by him.

This is a well-crafted historical mystery with elements of romance. The author presents an English village peopled with strongly individual characters given to gossip, intolerance, warmth and mutual support. Alongside, there are American airmen trying, with varying degrees of success, to be good neighbours.

Arlen’s book has a tone and voice different to the usual. It’s as if the author is addressing the reader individually, inviting each of us to share moments of humour with her, including us in the poignancy of certain moments and sensing we will understand how annoying some people can be. Poppy also shares with us her imaginary friend, Ilona, whose sharp tongue helps her through difficult moments. This personal touch and warm understanding were an unexpected pleasure. Highly recommended.