Maureen Jennings - Land Girls and Bomb Girls
Maureen Jennings is most well known for her series of books set in Toronto in the 1850’s, the Murdoch mysteries, now a popular television series. I read each of the Murdoch mysteries as they were published, and personally much prefer the books to the television adaptations.
Now there is a new series of novels. Season of Darkness, published in 2011, is the first in this series featuring Detective Inspector Tom Tyler. Set in war time England, just after the fiasco of the Dunkirk invasion, we are introduced to the Tyler family, Tom and his wife Vera, their son Jimmy, who is convalescing after the horror of Dunkirk, dreading his return to active duty, and their teenage daughter Janet, unhappily working in her grandfather’s butcher shop. Tom is the local copper, who knows everyone and their business. Tom’s life is a bit of a bore and his marriage is stale but not enough to make him leave home.
Into this setting we add the Land Girls, a bevy of young women of all sorts who come to work on the farms in place of the men who have gone off to war. Some are lively girls looking for adventure – and some find a little too much, one in particular gets herself killed. And Tom is now investigating a murder. The other newcomers to the area are internees in a prison camp, people who came to England to escape Europe but who do not have proper documentation, though some have lived in England for many years but never became naturalized British citizens. So, we have a camp full of young men who barely speak English, Jews who escaped Europe, some from concentration camps, all waiting anxiously for what the future will bring – worried that Germany will invade and they will be captured in the camp. Others calmly wait for the expected move to the Isle of Man where they have family members already interned.
Then there is the re-appearance, after almost twenty years, of Clare Devereaux. A woman Tom Tyler loved when he was a boy, the girl who left him brokenhearted now returns. Love is re-ignited at a time when Tom is vulnerable, ready to begin again, to regain his youth if only it were possible. When the murder investigation ends in even more tragedy we wonder if Tom Tyler will survive it at all.
He does of course to return in a second novel in the series, Beware This Boy, published late in 2012. We move on into the war, and into a munitions factory employing many of the young women in the local town. The story begins with an explosion, an accident or espionage? Detective Inspector Tom Tyler investigates.
This is a more worn Tom Tyler. As the war continues, exhausted families have lost sons and husbands, and now young women have been killed working for the war effort at home. Maureen Jennings interest in this topic led her to develop the story concept for the series Bomb Girls, set in Canada and based on the lives of women who worked in the munitions factories here during the Second World War.
This new series of novels led Maureen Jennings, who grew up in post-war England and came to Canada as a young adult, to return to England to research the time and place for these novels, exploring the world of her parents and grandparents and satisfing her interest in war time England, including the lives of the girls who worked on the farms and the munitions factories.
As much as I enjoyed the Murdoch novels, and reading about Toronto in the 1800’s, I like the new series even more and look forward to more books featuring Detective Inspector Tom Tyler.