Edwardian specialist Arlen (Death of an Unsung Hero, 2018, etc.) leaps forward 25 years to showcase a dedicated wartime volunteer who learns that the real danger in her hometown is not from the enemy overseas.
Little Buffenden was a quiet English village before World War II, but in the midst of the battle with the Nazis, the more immediate invasion is from the Yanks. Poppy Redfern and her grandparents have turned over their ancestral home, Reaches, to the American airmen known as the Midnight Raiders and moved temporarily to a smaller building on the property. Poppy, who serves as the Air Raid Precaution warden for the village, has a nighttime run-in with Lt. Griff O’Neal, one of the pilots, when each mistakes the other for the enemy. After that meet-cute, Poppy tries to focus on her business of enforcing blackout rules, but the other young women in the village are more attuned to the social benefits of so many visiting soldiers so eager for female companionship. In fact, village gossip suggests that one of the airmen has helped Doreen Newcombe get over her grief for her late fiance. After Doreen’s body, strangled with a nylon stocking, is found in the churchyard, sleepy Little Buffenden is no longer safe, and Poppy’s grandparents prevail upon her to accept Cpl. Sid Ritchie of the Home Guard as an escort. Although Poppy finds Sid tiresome, she agrees to please her grandparents. A second murder of one of the young women she’s known all her life motivates Poppy to do her own detective work, with some help from her dog and the increasingly friendly Griff. The nighttime actions of a bird-watcher suspected of the murders, Poppy’s discovery of a secret tunnel, a clue in the form of camphor, and her ambivalence about whether to accept Griff’s suit lead to an unsurprising denouement featuring a suspect who’s been under Poppy’s nose all along.
History, suspense, and an appealing heroine combine in a series debut that should attract war buffs and many others.