The Firebird's Feather by Marjorie Eccles is a short historical mystery featuring a young English woman in 1911, who is investigating her mother's murder (available December 1, 2014).
The plot of The Firebird's Feather engages directly with events of the time period in which it’s set. Set in 1911 during the Imperial periods of both Russia and England, the murder victim is the daughter of a Russian revolutionary who fled to England. Though there are plausible suspects living in London’s East End – Russian expatriates - who might have killed her for political reasons, there are a host of other possibilities. Marjorie Eccles has written several novels set in the early twentieth century, and her knowledge of the period is fed smoothly into the background through the eyes of multiple point-of-view characters. The story might have benefitted from being longer, given its complexity.
Eccles’ amateur detective, Kitty Challoner, is the teenaged daughter of the victim. Kitty partners with Marcus Villiers, a friend of the family who frequently escorted her mother to social events. Marcus feels there are depths to the murder that aren’t immediately obvious; Kitty is certain her mother would have nothing to do with politics of any sort. Marcus has his own mysteries, so far as Kitty is concerned, and her changing opinions of him reflect, in a lighter vein, the information she uncovers about her family in the course of the investigation. The two have a romantic subplot which I wished had included more depth:
Not that you could truthfully call Marcus Villiers handsome. Lean and very dark, an intelligent face with watchful, grey eyes under black, heavy brows that came together rather too easily. Thick, long eyelashes, the sort a girl might envy. A firm jawline that hinted at stubbornness, and a humour that had a sardonic tinge. Getting a real smile from him was like getting blood from a stone. Kitty found both him and his interest in her mama – not to say her encouragement of him – an enigma. He was not at all like the usual sort of languid young man who found it fashionable to hang around older married women in a way Bridget said was not always platonic. But Kitty wouldn’t let herself believe he was anything more to her mother than someone who was useful whenever she needed him to amuse her and pay her compliments, or simply to dance attendance on her in a general way. Except that he didn’t pay compliments, pretty or otherwise; nor did he go out of his way to amuse.
When the story opens, King Edward has recently died, and matters of murder and politics seem far from everyone’s minds. Kitty is looking forward to her official coming out to society and seems no more complex than any other teenager:
The time of mourning was over for genial, urbane King Edward, loved by all despite (or perhaps because of) his all-too-human frailties while he’d been Prince of Wales and later, king – and perhaps because his reign had been such a refreshing antidote to that of his strait-laced mother, Queen Victoria. He had been popular abroad too, his furthering of good relations with other European countries having earned him the name of Peacemaker. But he was now gone and preparations for the coronation in late June of the new King George and Queen Mary were in full swing. The knocking of hammers was audible the day long as spectator stands were being erected to line the royal processional route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster, along Whitehall and outside the Abbey.
However, despite the sunny summer beginning, Eccles foreshadows the murder to come by referencing social unrest, reminding the readers of suffragist violence and the conflict Kitty’s grandfather attempted to leave behind in Russia. The exploration of these conflicts was, I felt, too brief, but if you are just looking for a flavor of the period, and a taste of Eccles’ work, The Firebird's Feather is a tantalizing sample.
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