Ryan (The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, 2017) presents a social climber in reverse in Mrs. Braithwaite, a recently divorced, not very well-off granddaughter of an earl just deposed from her position as head of the Women’s Voluntary Service in her English village during World War II.
Raised by her Aunt Augusta, a heartless snob, Mrs. Braithwaite has always been told her family is superior to others. When her WVS nemesis, Mrs. Metcalf, forces her out, Mrs. Braithwaite realizes that a secret Mrs. Metcalf knows about her will always make her vulnerable, so she decides to go to London to tell her daughter, Betty, about the secret, thus denying Mrs. Metcalf the upper hand. Arriving in Wandsworth Common, she meets Mr. Norris, Betty’s landlord, and finds out that Betty has been missing for several days in the midst of the Blitz. Undeterred, Mrs. Braithwaite sets about searching for Betty, eventually enlisting Mr. Norris in this quest. As they make their way around war-torn London, unraveling the mystery of what kind of war work Betty has been doing and where she’s been, Mrs. Braithwaite engages in some self-reflection. As the story unfolds, she and Mr. Norris become a team, thwarting a group of British fascists and helping a number of other people along the way. Mrs. Braithwaite transforms from a somewhat bossy and imperious person to a more likable one. The transformation is believable as she begins to turn outward and do her bit not because of any misplaced sense of rank or privilege, but out of more selfless concerns. Some of the minor characters are less-than-fully fleshed out, and the last part of the story feels superficial. The very end of the book leaves the door open to a possible sequel, and readers will want to know what Mrs. Braithwaite and Mr. Norris will get up to next.
A cozy, entertaining historical spy story.