Written by Maureen Jennings — The author of Season of Darkness is a British ex-pat living in Canada, who is well known for writing the seven books in the Murdoch Mysteries series. These have benefited from a popular TV adaptation. Tom Tyler is her new creation, making his first appearance in Season of Darkness. It’s opens a trilogy, and has already been adapted for television as Bomb Girls, which will be showing on ITV3.
In the summer of 1940, the normally sleepy village of Whitchurch, Shropshire, is on edge. The disaster at Dunkirk was just some months back and the nation’s psyche has not fully recovered. Braced for a possible German invasion, internment camps have been set up for enemy aliens but in reality many of the prisoners are Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. A mood of suspicion reigns. Fifth columnists are suspected everywhere. Farmers are accused of ploughing arrows into their fields to direct German bombers.
A pretty Land Girl – a member of the Women’s Land Army, which assisted with agriculture doing WWII – is found dead at the side of the road. Apparently, she was run over then shot so Detective Inspector Tom Tyler is asked to investigate. He discovers that the girl had a complicated background so there could be many suspects. Besides a possible German spy from a nearby internment camp, the girl had taken a number of lovers – some of them, it’s rumoured, for money or favours. She was responsible for several thefts from the Land Girls’ quarters and some of her colleagues’ alibis don’t hold up to scrutiny. And, white poppies – symbols of pacifism – laid by the girl’s head point towards the village’s sole anti-war protestor.
The murder couldn’t have come at a worse time for Tom Tyler. Bored with routine countryside policing, ordinarily he would have welcomed the challenge of solving a murder, but he has problems of his own. His marriage to Vera is in title only. His daughter Janet is 16 and going off the rails, and son Jimmy has returned from Dunkirk a changed man, sullen and withdrawn. Tom can’t get him to open up. The woman who broke Tom’s heart years ago has returned to the village to work as an interpreter at the internment camp, but is hiding a second purpose. She’s passing on sensitive information from the prisoners’ letters to British spies. Tom’s feelings for her distract him from his investigation, which becomes more urgent as the bodies pile up.
There is no denying the skill with which Season of Darkness was put together. Maurine Jennings clearly knows her way around the period, and she is careful to provide the reader with a puzzle as to who is behind the murders. Her characters are all well drawn, and the experience of life in a village in World War II seems absolutely credible.
However your interest may well waver at points – some sections of the book are a little too bland. Perhaps, a preoccupation with generating across-the-board appeal means actually too little stands out. The prospect of an interned psychoanalyst presenting Tom with his insights into the criminal mind promised much, but in the end is barely more than a footnote.
A second novel in the series, Beware This Boy, is also available. There Tyler travels to Birmingham to investigate sabotage in a munitions factory.
CFL Rating: 2 Stars