Jun 20 2013 10:30pm

Maids, Valets, and the Joys of Well-Manored Murders

Wrotham Park, also known as Robert Altman's Gosford Park (2001).If you’re a fan of the Classic or Golden Age of Detection (Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie) and filmed dramas set in the early days of the twentieth century (Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs), then you understand the lure of the manor house and the magic of the escape into a world that never quite existed.

Novels and films set from about 1900 up until the beginning of WWII which feature characters of the rich elite and their devoted (or devious) servants attract many followers. The storylines tie into our fantasies, in one scene allowing us a vicarious experience of luxury and privilege as the owner of an estate, and in the next, we are the lowly scullery with dreams of marrying the master’s son (or murdering the master’s wife). In these settings we also find humor, excitement, and a cautious suspicion of new—or new to the characters—technologies that today we either take for granted or deplore. Automobiles and telephones were elegant novelties both distrusted and coveted. One of my favorite Downton Abbey scenes has Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, nearly toppled by a swivel chair. She is told they were invented long ago by Thomas Jefferson, and she remarks, “Why does every day involve a fight with an American?”

There is enough truth in these entertaining works to ground us, to make them believable or to at least suspend disbelief, and often to educate us in some way, giving us glimpses into ways of life and doing business that are now obsolete.

Waddesdon Manor and Gardens have appeared in TV's Midsomer Murders

What is missing is the tedium of everyday real life, the ugliness of poverty, the meanness of prejudice. Those things are represented, but never in a way that makes one cringe, always with optimism that good will win out and a happy, or at least gratifying ending will soon follow. Occasionally, a tragedy does strike for which there is no remedy, but I suspect it’s the underlying hopefulness of manor house stories that has the greatest appeal. After all, if Hercule Poirot didn’t always solve the case (even if too late to prevent a murder) or if we didn’t believe Lady Edith of Downton Abbey would eventually find love, would we reread the stories or be so eager for a next season?

Jeeves assists his master Bertie WoosterI don’t even need a manor house to enjoy the escape. Any story with a maid or valet has the potential to lure me in. As a modern woman sick to death of doing dishes, I sigh with longing as the lady of the modest home returns from a day in town, sinks into a chair by the fireplace, and is served a nice cuppa by her maid, who tells her dinner will be served in a half hour. I envy that fool Bertie Wooster who doesn’t deserve his brilliant man Jeeves in P.G. Wodehouse’s comic novels. From cottage to flat to country estate, Jeeves is there to save the day, starch the shirts, and keep his master in line. I could use a Jeeves around my house, organizing my drawers, and saying to me as I head out the door, “Did you intend to amuse with your choice of attire, Madam?”

I find most immersive those works created in the time in which they are set. While they withhold the harshest realities of life, they provide the authentic attitudes of the period. If any characters take a position of being politically correct or bold, they are stances representative of their time, not mine. For instance, Dorothy L. Sayers’ in Gaudy Night explores the complexities of choice for women. Love, marriage, career, it seemed impossible for a woman to have them all and sacrifices must be made, while men faced no such crisis. The topic is timely even now, but reading about them through Harriet Vane gives the reader a 1930s perspective.

The servants of Downton Abbey. If looks could kil....

Downton Abbey, on the other hand, represents contemporary writing about the past that assigns today’s politically correct attitudes to the most unlikely characters. While I enjoy the episodes thoroughly, I also can’t help rolling my eyes at times. Is it likely a gay man like the valet character Thomas Barrow would win the friendship of James, the homophobic footman he’d been pursuing? Or that Lord Grantham would lie to the police to protect Thomas, motivated mostly by Thomas’s ability on the cricket field? But even as I roll my eyes, I’m happy the storylines turn hopeful not ugly. There’s no harm in enjoying the implausible, and in spending a few hours immersed in a world where the best of humanity triumphs. At the very least, after reading a manor house mystery or indulging in a television period drama, I’m refreshed enough to face the sink full of dishes.

This sweepstakes has ended. Please refer to our feature page for current opportunities.

To enter for a chance to win a signed set of Professor Bradshaw mysteries by Bernadette Pajer, inventive whodunits set during the early 20th century of Edison and Tesla, make sure you’re logged in as a registered member of the site, and then simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older. To enter, fill out entry at beginning at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) June 20, 2013. Sweepstakes ends at 10:29 p.m. ET on June 27, 2013 (the “Promotion Period”). Void outside of the 50 US and DC and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules at Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010


Bernadette Pajer is the author of The Professor Bradshaw Mysteries in which she strives to provide a Classic Age of Detection atmosphere while reflecting the attitudes of early twentieth Americans in the rapidly changing era of Tesla and Edison.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Book Momma
The Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear are excellent. She struggles to find a way to have her career and a personal life.
2. Bill Creed
Historical mysteries set at the turn of the twentieth century seem to strike a chord for many: not so far distant to seem alien but sufficiently in the past to feel quaint and familiar at the same time.
Gordon Bingham
3. gordonbingham
Close in time, very distant in manners and morals...
Thomas Walker
4. twalker
i would love to win something new and interesting.
alyce poalillo
6. alycep
My favorite type of mysteries! Historical british who dunnits, love to win this set.
7. shannon Baas
I love mysteries.
Linda Deming
8. lindem
My favorite reading is Mtstery and Supense Novels!
Shauntea Crutcher
9. tiac32
I love mysteries. I haven't had the chance to read anything for enjoyment lately since I've been in school. Would love to win this set.
11. cheekysod7
mysteries rock
Lynn Ristau
12. Elsandra
I enjoy all sorts of historical mysteries, put my name in!
17. runner
Groovy Professor!
Reeta Harrison
19. rdharrison
I love all novels about a time and place that I've heard about but never lived and therefore are both familiar and unfamiliar to me.
Michelle Langlinais
20. michelleopal
I love a good read and these sound like a wonderful and relazing way to spend an afternoon!!
Lorena Keech
22. llkee
I look forward to reading them, sound very interesting.
lynette thompson
This looks like just a great book. Love it.
carol bondell
25. csbondell
this looks like a great book to read and I would love to win it
Susan Robinette
28. susanrob
I enjoy this time period -- would love to win the books
Russell Moore
29. russrpm
My fifth grade teacher gave me a copy of "And Then There Were None" when I couldn't find anything to interest me in the school library. That was MANY years ago, and I have been hooked on this type of mystery (among others) ever since.
Jessica Jones
30. nolaboard
I do enjoy these period mysteries!!
Happy there's a new to me author to read!
Kim Atwell
32. kimberley_22
My mother would love these, I would read them when she was done. Thanks for the opportunity.
carol donnermeyer
36. hobbitjean
Mysteries are my meat and potato reading. I would love to add to my diet.
Mary L Allen
37. celtpriest
I love the genre...cut my eyeteeth on Dorothy L Sayers.
Don Gentry
38. traumadon
Awesome, my wife would absolutely love this series ! And Signed ! Totally cool !
Richard Derus
41. expendablemudge
I found Downton Abbey disappointingly unrealistic. But the time period, a favorite of mine, kept me watching, as did the fact that I could stream episodes.

I've crossed things that haven't seen each other in years hoping to win the set!
Marie-Louise Molloy
43. Wezzie
Always love an English mystery series, would love to begin this at the start!
Erin Hartshorn
44. ErinMH
I have long wanted a Jeeves of my own.
Anita Yancey
47. yellowrose29
They sound amazing. A different time period than I'm use to reading, but that is what makes it appealing.
Deanna Stillings
48. reader123
It is always good to escape for a while to a different and in this case not too far away time.
elizabeth findlay
49. eafindlay
My absolute favorite type of mysteries:0 the need to win is huge within me.
Deborah Dumm
51. deb730
Can't wait to read this historical mystery. Thank you!!!!
Connie Saunders
52. cataloger
Mysterious happenings and suspenseful moments...just what I need this summer!
malcolm womack
55. adamburt
Win or lose, I'll be checking these out! Thanks for letting me know!
Joanne Mielczarski
56. jtmswim
I love Downton Abbey, so these stories sound right up my alley.
Great murder mysteries never get old and they're always welcome in my home.
Doris C. Losey
58. loseydoris
enjoyed the first two books in your series!
Nora-Adrienne Deret
59. NoraA
My partner loves period mysteries so I'd love to be able to gift her with this set. She is a big a reader as I am.
60. CherylMc
looks to be such a good read
Clydia DeFreese
61. clydia
I learn about so many authors from your site. I'd love to read this series.
Jackie Miller
62. Jackie
I've never read the Professor Bradshaw mysteries so I'd love to win a set and read them. One of the reasons I treasure independent bookstores is that people-staff and other customers- make suggestions and introduce me to new authors. Things just haven't been the same around here since Kate's Mystery Books closed. There is, however, still the wonderful Porter Square Books.
Sharon Shumway
63. Shellen
I love this type of mystery and I have been so hungry for a good one, I can't wait to read your books.
Melissa Dials
64. Mimi
Historical Dramas + Mysteries = Awesome in My World!
Jean Feingold
65. dusksunset
There is something peculiarly British about this type of mysteries. No American equivalent comes to mind.
Janet Stewart
66. JustJanet
As a certified Downton Abbey nut, I would love to read these books.
Cindi Hoppes
67. CindiHoppes
This is right down my alley...Agatha Christie is my favorite
author and I would be thrilled to win this sign set of Professor
Bradshaw books!
Many thanks, Cindi
Bob Alexander
69. rx_alex
These 3 books are fine examples of the most enjoyable genre.
72. MeDenise
oh PLEASE!!!! Would love to get these!
Mary Ann Brady
73. mirahana
This is my absolute favorite to watch or read. Would love to win this. Thx.
Lisa Garrett
74. lag123
I love Downton Abby, simply for all of the reasons you described.
Pat Murphy
75. murphyp2011
I am an avid reader who loves reading period mysteries. I especially enjoy the Amelia Peabody series. Prof. Bradshaw sounds like a great new series to start and signed to boot. Count me in on the drawing.
Laura McDonald
76. bonnieclyde
I found an old paperback copy of The Mirror Crack'd by Agatha Christie when I was a young teenager. In the forty years since then I have read everything I could find in the English Country House mystery style! Even C.S. Lewis' books fit right in. It is history, but almost close enough to touch. Unrealistic, true, but I read to escape.
Victoria Swadley
77. vswadley
I love period mysteries, especially during the late 1800s-WWII. Love Downton Abbey, other period mysteries on tv and period mystery authors. I've read the first Professor Bradshaw mystery and am looking so forward to the rest!
78. normajean
Love mysteries set in this time period. Have not read any of the Professor Bradshaw mysteries yet, but will definitely check them out. Would love to win this set. Thanks for the chance to win.
Deborah Lacy
79. DeborahLacy
I haven't read any of these mysteries but would love to.
Carrol Ann Smith
Manor house mysteries are my favorite escapist reads. I imagine myself as one of the well to do characters. What a way to live! Or is it?
Bob Keck
81. ky2here
Agatha Christie's 'Curtain' was the first hardcover book I bought (first edition so that tells you how damn old I am!). Please count me in.
Susan Gainen
82. srgainen
I have read and re-read Gaudy Night. It is one of my all-time favorites.
83. pegni
This sounds like a fantastic break from novel boredom that can be felt sometimes when everything is the same. Would love to read these!!
Andrew Beck
84. queerbec
I'm not familiar with the Professor Bradshaw mysteries, but they sound like the author is really trying to capture the authenticity of the period!
85. TopDragon
My favorite combination: crime/mystery in an accurately-depicted historical setting. Looking forward to discovering this series for myself.
Sue Farrell
86. Suekey12
I love mysteries--and it's so much fun to travel back in time to when our grandparents or even great grandparents would have lived lets us learn a little about those past days.
Sally Winkleblech
89. sallyw
I have the tea and crumpets ready so I can read these in comfort. Sounds like a great set.
Beverly Price
90. bocababe
I love to read mysteries and this sounds like a great one.
Juli Lear
91. jlear
I know I would love this series. I have read many books of this genre and they were fantastic reads. This series is new to me, but sounds great!
Heather Martin
92. CrystalMirror
Victorian mysteries started my love affair with "grown-up " books. Stories from, and about, this time period will always hold a special place in my heart.
Joyce Mitchell
93. JoyceLm
I believe Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie were writing contemporary mysteries, but now they're read as "historical." Interesting.
Johanna Bouchard
94. JMB89
would love to win! thanks for the great giveaway!! :)
Charles Fraker
95. CharlieF
Thanks for the contest! Please sign me up.
96. kay-price
Bernadette, I loved this post and heartily agree I wish I had "staff". I wonder sometimes how the staff felt about servitude though...

Whoever wins the Bradshaw collection is in for a true treat--I loved both A Spark of Death and Fatal Induction. Thanks for a wonderful set of characters and for the meticulous research you do in making Seattle come to life.
98. janedoe
I'm definitely a fan of the classic British mystery so would love to win the set.
Karen Appleby
101. kkappleby
A mystery, my favorite genre. Hoping I can win this one. Is there someplace where you announce the winner?
Lisa Kaiser
102. lisakaiser
These look to be fun reads. I love historical fiction +mystery.
Nancy Gonzalez
103. NancyNo5
I would love to be served a 'cuppa' tea while reading this book!
Carol Lawman
104. juju2cat
Love this era of mysteries! So what if there happens to be a body (or two) lying around.
Judie McDonald
105. Judiemcd
Loved Downton Abby! It's a facinating era.
106. dawnall
I loved it. Stephen never disappoints.
Marjorie Pawley
107. marjip
These would be excellent reads! Want them very much!
Brenda Tucker
109. rango3
Excellent period for the books - I love it.
Laura McLendon
111. LMcLendon
As an avid fan of Downton Abbey, I know I would love this series. Please enter me!! Thanks :)
sue brandes
112. sbrandes
I would love a chance to win these books. I really enjoy a good mystery. Thank you!
Kari Flores
114. kari944
I love historical mysteries, sounds like gooding reading. Thanks!
Larisa LaBrant
115. MsGodiva1
Seattle, Turn of the Century, Tesla and mystery? Yes, Please!
Merikay Noah
116. PopcornReads
"There's nothing quite like a good manor-house mystery," she said, drooling at the thought!
117. Georgiann
I love Agatha Christie novels hope i win.
Jeffrey Malis
118. bravejam
I welcome the chance to read this series. Thank you for the opportunity!
Elizabeth Chaldekas
121. lizchaldekas
I always wanted Jeeves to be my butler, but he would have to get rid of Bertie first...
judy oliver
123. jjudyfl
They obviously don't have hurricanes there! That roof scares me!
Ed Nemmers
124. saturdaynightfever
I would love to read the work of Bernadette Pajer!
Tyneisha Fondren
125. openmind101
I love a good mystery..these mansions are just so majestic!
kathy pease
127. klp1965
Thank you for the great giveaway please count me in :)
Carolyn Dileo
128. cbdileo
Oh, I love these kinds of mysteries! Thanks
Jaclyn Reynolds
129. jaclynfett
Would love to read this!! So excited for the chance to win!
Lynette Atkinson
130. Urbangypsy
Would be a great set to win, there is something special about those old fashioned society crimes.
Linda Rodriguez
132. LindaRodriguez
I love period mysteries! These sound intriguing!
Erin Cook
133. cookster77
I love mystery stories I really want to win this!
Tracy Allen
135. jcabeans
Historical mysteries are a new love of mine. I especially like Thompson's Gaslight series
Heather Cowley
136. choochoo
Got hooked on Downton Abbey, and if this set is anything like it, I'm there. All in, actually.
barbara stenby
140. wikichoco
Mysteries are where its at! My favorite kind of book! This series looks so good! Hope I get to read it!
Carol Turner
141. cjpturner
Staff...someone to wash the dishes (and the laundry)...and time to solve mysteries.... heaven. Count me in.
Susan Smoaks
142. susansmoaks
i would enjoy this, thanks for the chance to win!
144. B.Pajer
Fun to see all the comments! I wanted to pass along that at this very moment (and not sure for how long) the ebook of the first in the Professor Bradshaw Mystery series, A SPARK OF DEATH, is just 99cents at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, iTunes, and Kobo.
Betty Curran
146. willitara
I was always a big fan of Dorothy Sayers. This looks great.
Allison Moyer
147. The Loopy Librarian
I've yet to see an episode of Downtown Abbey, but everyone I know has been recommending it to me. I must check this out! I'm certain I would enjoy this book. Thanks for the giveaway!
Aurika Hays
148. Aurika
I could always use another set. Seems like I keep giving them as gifts to friends!
Karen Gonyea
150. ktgonyea
Looks wonderful !!

ktgonyea at
LeAnn Knott
151. knottlady
Looks like a great read! Love the historical storyline plus the mystery!! Thanks for the chance to review and/or win!!!
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