The Unseen Hand (Home Front Detective)

Written by Edward Marston
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

London 1917. In this, the eighth in Marston’s Home Front Detective series, Inspector Marmion and Sergeant Keedy find themselves saddled with an unusual murder case. The high-class Lotus Hotel in Chelsea offers an (expensive) haven for its exclusively female clientele, and its owner, the formidable Mrs Fleetwood, prides herself on providing exactly what a lady of taste and discernment wants. But when one of the guests, Lady Brice-Cadmore, is discovered murdered in her bedroom, the hotel’s reputation is suddenly under attack.  Was Lady Brice-Cadmore really all she seemed, and what about Fraser Buchanan, the ambitious owner of a rival hotel? Mrs Fleetwood suspects he’d be delighted if her hotel failed. And who is the wily impersonator pretending to be a hotel guest? Mrs Fleetwood is determined to get at the truth; she swears that all her staff are loyal and many of them have been with her for years, so why aren’t Marmion and Keedy taking her suspicions about Buchanan seriously?  She is infuriated when the two detectives insist on following their other leads. Meanwhile, bookings are being cancelled and guests are leaving.

I’ve always enjoyed Marston’s detective novels for their skill, attention to period detail, and the unexpected twists and turns. The Unseen Hand is no exception. The pace never drops, the cast of characters – many of them morally dubious – is large, but he never tangles the reins, and there are plenty of surprises along the way. I like the fact that things are at stake, even for minor characters, like the put-upon chambermaid who discovers the body and is terrified of losing her job. Life could be cruel for working-class women in 1917, and Marston does not forget the realities of the period.  I was definitely hooked and can confidently pronounce that this book is a corker.