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

Wrotham Park, also known as Robert Altman's Gosford Park (2001).
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
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 https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2013/06/manor-house-murder-mysteries-maids-valets-christie-poirot-downton-abbey-historical-bernadette-pajer 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 https://www.criminalelement.com/page/official-rules-professor-bradshaw-comments-sweepstakes. 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.

Comments

  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.

  3. Gordon Bingham

    Close in time, very distant in manners and morals…

  4. Thomas Walker

    i would love to win something new and interesting.

  5. shayne livingston

    i would love to read these!

  6. alyce poalillo

    My favorite type of mysteries! Historical british who dunnits, love to win this set.

  7. shannon Baas

    I love mysteries.

  8. Linda Deming

    My favorite reading is Mtstery and Supense Novels!

  9. Shauntea Crutcher

    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.

  10. Starr Greenwell

    This looks so good. Thanks:)

  11. cheekysod7

    mysteries rock

  12. Lynn Ristau

    I enjoy all sorts of historical mysteries, put my name in!

  13. lynette barfield

    Would love a copy.

  14. Vicky Boackle

    sounds great.

  15. Denise Sachs

    I love mysteries and true crime.

  16. cheryl wong

    looks like a good read

  17. runner

    Groovy Professor!

  18. Karen Hester

    Series sounds promising

  19. Reeta Harrison

    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.

  20. Michelle Langlinais

    I love a good read and these sound like a wonderful and relazing way to spend an afternoon!!

  21. Colleen Welander

    Excellent read.

  22. Lorena Keech

    I look forward to reading them, sound very interesting.

  23. lynette thompson

    This looks like just a great book. Love it.

  24. carol bondell

    this looks like a great book to read and I would love to win it

  25. CATHARINE RIEHL

    My favorite type of mystery!

  26. Julie N.

    I like

  27. Susan Robinette

    I enjoy this time period — would love to win the books

  28. Russell Moore

    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.

  29. Jessica Jones

    I do enjoy these period mysteries!!
    Happy there’s a new to me author to read!

  30. Joe Hauser

    Very nice!

  31. Kim Atwell

    My mother would love these, I would read them when she was done. Thanks for the opportunity.

  32. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read these books

  33. vicki wurgler

    a great summer read-thanks

  34. ravensfan

    I’d love to win these books.

  35. carol donnermeyer

    Mysteries are my meat and potato reading. I would love to add to my diet.

  36. Mary L Allen

    I love the genre…cut my eyeteeth on Dorothy L Sayers.

  37. Don Gentry

    Awesome, my wife would absolutely love this series ! And Signed ! Totally cool !

  38. Donna Bruno

    Nice! I’d love to win it!

  39. Dorothy Newmark

    So glad to learn of this series!

  40. Richard Derus

    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!

  41. Angela Dyrcz

    Yes, please!

  42. Marie-Louise Molloy

    [b] Always love an English mystery series, would love to begin this at the start![/b]

  43. Erin Hartshorn

    I have long wanted a Jeeves of my own.

  44. Taylor Duncan

    AWEEESOME!

  45. anita millard

    please, please

  46. Anita Yancey

    They sound amazing. A different time period than I’m use to reading, but that is what makes it appealing.

  47. Deanna Stillings

    It is always good to escape for a while to a different and in this case not too far away time.

  48. elizabeth findlay

    My absolute favorite type of mysteries:0 the need to win is huge within me.

  49. Steven Wilber

    Sounds interesting. Count me in

  50. Deborah Dumm

    Can’t wait to read this historical mystery. Thank you!!!!

  51. Connie Saunders

    Mysterious happenings and suspenseful moments…just what I need this summer!

  52. Suzanne Gonneville

    My period for reading.

  53. Barbara

    Love these kinds of mysteries!

  54. malcolm womack

    Win or lose, I’ll be checking these out! Thanks for letting me know!

  55. Joanne Mielczarski

    I love Downton Abbey, so these stories sound right up my alley.

  56. Ann

    Great murder mysteries never get old and they’re always welcome in my home.

  57. Doris C. Losey

    enjoyed the first two books in your series!

  58. Nora-Adrienne Deret

    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.

  59. CherylMc

    looks to be such a good read

  60. Clydia DeFreese

    I learn about so many authors from your site. I’d love to read this series.

  61. Jackie Miller

    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.

  62. Sharon Shumway

    I love this type of mystery and I have been so hungry for a good one, I can’t wait to read your books.

  63. Melissa Dials

    Historical Dramas + Mysteries = Awesome in My World!

  64. Jean Feingold

    There is something peculiarly British about this type of mysteries. No American equivalent comes to mind.

  65. Janet Stewart

    As a certified Downton Abbey nut, I would love to read these books.

  66. Cindi Hoppes

    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
    jchoppes[at]hotmail[dot]com

  67. Kimbrell Scheunert

    Oh, I can’t wait to read these books!

  68. Bob Alexander

    These 3 books are fine examples of the most enjoyable genre.

  69. julie hawkins

    I’d luv to read these

  70. Dan Carr

    I love this time period!

  71. MeDenise

    oh PLEASE!!!! Would love to get these!

  72. Mary Ann Brady

    This is my absolute favorite to watch or read. Would love to win this. Thx.

  73. Lisa Garrett

    I love Downton Abby, simply for all of the reasons you described.

  74. Pat Murphy

    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.

  75. Laura McDonald

    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.

  76. Victoria Swadley

    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!

  77. Norma

    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.

  78. Deborah Lacy

    I haven’t read any of these mysteries but would love to.

  79. 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?

  80. Bob Keck

    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.

  81. Susan Gainen

    I have read and re-read Gaudy Night. It is one of my all-time favorites.

  82. 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!!

  83. Andrew Beck

    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!

  84. David

    My favorite combination: crime/mystery in an accurately-depicted historical setting. Looking forward to discovering this series for myself.

  85. Sue Farrell

    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.

  86. theresa norris

    I’d love to read this.

  87. MaryC

    Love historical mysteries.

  88. Sally Winkleblech

    I have the tea and crumpets ready so I can read these in comfort. Sounds like a great set.

  89. Beverly Price

    I love to read mysteries and this sounds like a great one.

  90. Juli Lear

    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!

  91. Heather Martin

    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.

  92. Joyce Mitchell

    I believe Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie were writing contemporary mysteries, but now they’re read as “historical.” Interesting.

  93. Johanna Bouchard

    would love to win! thanks for the great giveaway!! 🙂

  94. Charles Fraker

    Thanks for the contest! Please sign me up.

  95. 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.

  96. Daniel Morrell

    sounds like a great set!

  97. jane

    I’m definitely a fan of the classic British mystery so would love to win the set.

  98. SALLY GASS

    JOLLY GOOD READ-BLOODY GOOD SHOW-HOPE I WIN!!!

  99. L L

    Interesting

  100. Karen Appleby

    A mystery, my favorite genre. Hoping I can win this one. Is there someplace where you announce the winner?

  101. Lisa Kaiser

    These look to be fun reads. I love historical fiction +mystery.

  102. Nancy Gonzalez

    I would love to be served a ‘cuppa’ tea while reading this book!

  103. Carol Lawman

    Love this era of mysteries! So what if there happens to be a body (or two) lying around.

  104. Judie McDonald

    Loved Downton Abby! It’s a facinating era.

  105. dawnall

    I loved it. Stephen never disappoints.

  106. Marjorie Pawley

    These would be excellent reads! Want them very much!

  107. Fred Gillis

    Count me in.

  108. Brenda Tucker

    Excellent period for the books – I love it.

  109. Ellen

    Free and signed too Yeah!

  110. Laura McLendon

    As an avid fan of Downton Abbey, I know I would love this series. Please enter me!! Thanks 🙂

  111. sue brandes

    I would love a chance to win these books. I really enjoy a good mystery. Thank you!

  112. Phoenix Vie

    I really like historical mysteries.

  113. Kari Flores

    I love historical mysteries, sounds like gooding reading. Thanks!

  114. Larisa LaBrant

    Seattle, Turn of the Century, Tesla and mystery? Yes, Please!

  115. Merikay Noah

    “There’s nothing quite like a good manor-house mystery,” she said, drooling at the thought!

  116. georgiann

    I love Agatha Christie novels hope i win.

  117. Jeffrey Malis

    I welcome the chance to read this series. Thank you for the opportunity!

  118. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  119. matt lehman

    looks good!

  120. Elizabeth Chaldekas

    I always wanted Jeeves to be my butler, but he would have to get rid of Bertie first…

  121. john frost

    sounds like an interestng series

  122. judy oliver

    They obviously don’t have hurricanes there! That roof scares me!

  123. Ed Nemmers

    I would love to read the work of Bernadette Pajer!

  124. Tyneisha Fondren

    I love a good mystery..these mansions are just so majestic!

  125. Susan Smith

    sounds great

  126. kathy pease

    Thank you for the great giveaway please count me in 🙂

  127. Carolyn Dileo

    Oh, I love these kinds of mysteries! Thanks

  128. Jaclyn Reynolds

    Would love to read this!! So excited for the chance to win!

  129. Lynette Atkinson

    Would be a great set to win, there is something special about those old fashioned society crimes.

  130. Tricha Leary

    Would love this

  131. Linda Rodriguez

    I love period mysteries! These sound intriguing!

  132. Erin Cook

    I love mystery stories I really want to win this!

  133. Donna Bruno

    I’d love to win the trio of books!

  134. Tracy Allen

    Historical mysteries are a new love of mine. I especially like Thompson’s Gaslight series

  135. Heather Cowley

    Got hooked on Downton Abbey, and if this set is anything like it, I’m there. All in, actually.

  136. teresa sopher

    my favorite literary period!

  137. Mihaela Day

    I love these period mysteries!!

  138. Tim Moss

    Count me in!

  139. barbara stenby

    Mysteries are where its at! My favorite kind of book! This series looks so good! Hope I get to read it!

  140. Carol Turner

    Staff…someone to wash the dishes (and the laundry)…and time to solve mysteries…. heaven. Count me in.

  141. Susan Smoaks

    i would enjoy this, thanks for the chance to win!

  142. Buddy Garrett

    I would love these great books. Thanks.

  143. 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.

  144. Daniel Vice

    This looks great

  145. Betty Curran

    I was always a big fan of Dorothy Sayers. This looks great.

  146. Allison Moyer

    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!

  147. Aurika Hays

    I could always use another set. Seems like I keep giving them as gifts to friends!

  148. VICKIE HAMILTON

    Mystery and Suspense…count me in to win!

  149. Karen Gonyea

    Looks wonderful !!

    ktgonyea at gmail.com

  150. LeAnn Knott

    Looks like a great read! Love the historical storyline plus the mystery!! Thanks for the chance to review and/or win!!!

  151. Cynthia Teer

    Please enter me.

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