Betrayal at Ravenswick by Kelly Oliver
Trade paperback, $16.95, 240 pages
While we're all stuck inside, due both to the pandemic and hunkering down for winter, the start of a new mystery book series is a reason for joy. While readers are patiently (or impatiently) waiting for the new Maisie Dobbs book from Jacqueline Winspear and the new Maggie Hope book from Susan Elia McNeal, Kelly Oliver has written a book series for them.
Betrayal at Ravenswick is set in 1917 during WWI. Fiona Figg is a file clerk with Room 40, a war intelligence agency in England. She just discovered that her husband has been having an affair with his secretary, and he wants a divorce.
England is attempting to get the United States to join the Allies to end the war, and haven't yet come up with a way to convince them. When Fiona gives her bosses a suggestion they haven't thought of, she becomes a part of the team. Her photographic memory makes her a valuable asset as well.
While on her first undercover assignment she dresses as a man, Dr. Vogel, who specializes in poisons and gynecological issues (an odd combination), she becomes involved in the murder of a countess while staying at the countess's family estate.
There is no shortage of suspects, from the countess's husband, children, and the man Fiona was sent to watch, Frederick Fredericks, a South African big game hunter and newspaper reporter. Fiona has been ordered by her bosses not to get involved, stay to her assignment, but she gets involved, even having to testify at a trial in her disguise.
The mystery behind who killed the countess is intriguing, the characters interesting, (there are agents and double agents galore), and although it is a little incredulous that no one sees through Fiona's disguise as a man, if you can suspend your disbelief there, you've got a good start to a new spy series. I like that Fiona is a feminist, unhappy that even as she is now a full-fledged spy she is expected to make tea for the men at the office, and clean up the break room.
High Treason at the Grand Hotel By Kelly Oliver
Trade paperback, 272 pages, $16.95
High Treason at the Grand Hotel picks up right where Betrayal at Ravenswick ends. In the second book, Fiona is sent to Paris to once again follow Frederick Fredericks, who is believed to have something to do with British ships being sunk by the Germans. She has been explicitly ordered by her bosses not to don any disguises this time, an order Fiona disregards.
She goes undercover as a bellboy at the Grand Hotel to gain access to Fredericks' room. She also becomes involved with notorious spy Mata Hari, and infamous serial killer Henri Desire Landru. I found Fiona's interaction with actual historical figures added a extra level of interest to the story.
Once again, a countess is murdered (countesses are not safe in Oliver's books), and Fiona finds herself surrounded by agents and double agents, with Fredericks in the middle of the action. Clifford Douglas, who works for British intelligence, pops up again here, and like Fiona, the reader finds him less insufferable in this second book than the first. He starts to grow on you as he and Fiona are becoming a team.
One of my favorite scenes takes place in a library, where Fiona retreats to dig for answers to some of her questions. Even spies know that you can find the answer to anything in the library.
I enjoyed the combination of action, a little romance, humor (Fiona having to lug people's bags all day while undercover as a bellboy), and the interesting facts that Oliver throws in the story (the US made Puerto Rico citizens to open up a new avenue for war recruits, the color mauve was created a chemist looking to extract quinine from coal tar). I look forward to reading more of Fiona Figg's upcoming exploits.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Kelly Oliver's tour.