The Mitford Vanishing

It's a spectacular concept: when Jessica Fellowes's Mitford Murders series (The Mitford Scandal) is complete, each of six mysteries will center on one of England's six Mitford sisters, who courted fame and controversy in the early and mid-1900s. So inspired is Fellowes's concept that it would seem almost greedy to ask that her books be splendidly written and ingeniously plotted, but this is exactly what readers of The Mitford Vanishing, the fifth title in the series, can expect.

The novel finds Louisa Sullivan, the Mitford family's former nursery maid-turned-cofounder, with her husband, of a London detective agency, on their first assignment. The couple has been hired by Lord and Lady Redesdale to locate their 19-year-old daughter, Jessica--the fifth of the six Mitford girls and a "Bolshie," as her sister Nancy puts it. (She eventually wrote the classic The American Way of Death.) Eleven days earlier, the Redesdales had put Jessica on a train to Dieppe, France, with the understanding that she would embark on a motor tour with friends, but this is not the path their daughter follows.

Set in 1937, The Mitford Vanishing sifts through the politics of the prewar period and explores how ideological differences can destabilize families, but it all goes down as easy as the chocolat chaud that Louisa and her husband, hot on Jessica's trail, enjoy in Dieppe. Fellowes bases some aspects of her novel on Mitford family history, but the feminist Louisa is a marvelous invention, a working mother equally at peace with her "downstairs" heritage and her "upstairs" ambition. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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