By Lori Rader-Day
Author Lori Rader-Day has taken a true event — author Agatha Christie’s opening of her Devon home (Greenway (or Greenway House)) to children sheltering from the Blitz in World War II — and has wrapped a mystery (or two) around it.
At the heart of this story is Bridget Kelly, whose mother always wanted her to be a nurse. But her mother and younger brothers and sisters all died in a bomb attack during the Blitz.
Bridget struggles on with her grief tightly locked inside. But when a drug she gives to a soldier in St. Prisca’s Hospital causes convulsions, she’s dismissed. Her matron does offer her a chance to work with the starchy Mrs. Arbuthnot who is taking a dozen young children and babies to the English countryside away from the Blitz.
A second nurse is also to join them on the trip. Elegant, poised and worldly, she claims her name is Bridget Kelly, too. But she doesn’t manage the children well and leaves Bridget (now nicknamed Bridey) alone with them on the train for hours.
When the other Bridget (now nicknamed Gigi) reappears, she’s picked up friends: a woman named Willa, a man with a cane and another man who is attractive and charming.
Bridey and Gigi find themselves in a community that doesn’t welcome strangers, not even child evacuees from the London Blitz. They are mourning their own sons and brothers lost in the war. There have also been several unexpected deaths locally of men who appeared to be healthy and too young to die. Dr. Oliver Hart believes the deaths were due to hidden conditions such as heart disease. But the locals don’t trust him; he’s another outsider.
Located on the Dart River, close to the English Channel, local residents have been hit with German bombs sporadically. They fear they may be a first point of attack in a German invasion.
Bridey learns that Gigi and her friends have been trained as observers of groups of people. In peace time, the opinions and reactions they picked up would be applied to advertising soap or fashions. Now, they claim to be working for the British government in some unknown capacity.
Things become more sinister when one of Gigi’s friends from the train turns up beaten and strangled. Neither Gigi nor her friends tell the authorities they know the victim.
Then Gigi herself disappears.
This book is interesting for its descriptions of the place and the times. Agatha Christie only appears briefly. The characters that fill this book — Bridey; Gigi, who has been disowned by her upper class family; bossy Mrs. Arbuthnot and her photographer husband; the less than honorable Dr. Hart; the butler, Frank Scaldwell, who makes nightly patrols of Greenway land searching for Nazi soldiers; and the local gossips — are well drawn and interesting.
But ultimately, I found myself disappointed in this book. What was Gigi doing for the British government? Why did she run away? Why did Bridey feel a need to keep what she knew about Gigi’ secret?
Rader-Day does follow what happened to Bridey and why she acted as she did, but I was left feeling that the mysteries surrounding Gigi were never fully explained.
The Author: Lori Rader-Day (1973 – )
DEATH AT GREENWAY won a 2022 Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel. Author Lori Rader-Day is no stranger to awards and nominations. She is a three-time winner of an Anthony Award and a nominee for the Thriller, Macavity, Barry and Lefty awards.
Other books that Rader-Day has written include THE LUCKY ONE, UNDER A DARK SKY, THE DAY I DIED, LITTLE PRETTY THINGS and THE BLACK HOUR.
Her short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, TimeOut Chicago, Crab Orchard Review, Freight Stories and several anthologies. Author Jodi Picoult chose one of her stories as the grand prize winner of Good Housekeeping’s first fiction contest in 2010.
She studied journalism at Ball State University in Muncie, IN, before studying creative writing at Roosevelt University in Chicago.
She lives in Chicago. She served as 2019-2020 national president of Sisters in Crime. She teaches creative writing for Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies.