I bought this book just after Simon and Kaggsy's last book group and have patiently sat on since finding that the next book club would be 1956. In the meantime I've found that crime fiction from the 1950's seems to be very much my thing, which only made me anticipate this one more.
It was worth the wait. Greyladies books are a treat anyway so I never had any doubts that I would enjoy this, the question was how much I would enjoy it. A mysterious American has been found dead in an abandoned shop in Haworth after a visit to Professor Appleby - an increasingly jittery Bronte expert. Another body turns up in Wordsworth country (in this case making a mess of Lady Haltwhistle's fitted carpet), and the mysteries continue to pile up with the bodies.
At this point Miss Flora Hogg and her friend, Milly Brown are called in. Flora Hogg, graduate of Bristol, ex school mistress, and daughter of a police detective has herself turned detective with some success. Her methods are sometimes unorthodox but eventually successful. The mystery here is enjoyable, it bounces along sort of making sense but mostly existing as a vehicle for Lee's humour and a series of set peices which are absolute gems.
There's more than a nod to classic golden age mysteries that suggests something like a post war nostalgia for a pre war world, but mostly I think it's a vehicle for jokes that Austen Lee wants to write. Miss Hogg and Milly are two at least middle aged ladies concerned about their tea and shopping when they're not detecting. The passage where Lady Haltwhistle finds out what's happened to her carpet is a masterpiece, and there are plenty more comic interludes in the book. It's a mystery for people who want to be amused rather than seriously puzzled.
I like to try and work out what these books tell me about the year they're written in when I do these book clubs, but apart from an extremely casual attitude to drink driving this one doesn't tell me much - apart possibly from the enjoyment of good food and wine throughout. Rationing only finally ended in 1954 (meat being the last thing to return to normal) so in 1956 plentiful and good meals must still have felt like something not just to be excited about, but that couldn't be taken for granted.
Maybe the humour is a clue too? A book for a world that's getting back to normal and wants to enjoy itself without dwelling on the serious things just around the corner or the serious things in the past. Or maybe not. Either way Greyladies publishes another Miss Hogg title, and Austen Lee wrote several more - if they're as good as this one I hope someone republishes more of them soon. They're just the sort of comforting read I could do with right about now.