I mentioned it before (years ago) and I will gladly repeat myself: when I’m struggling with mental health issues, I love myself a good cozy mystery … or two or three. Starting with J. B. Fletcher and the Murder, She wrote cozy mystery book series, over the last few years I’ve accumulated a nice little collection of (more or less) cozy mystery, classic crime novels, and historical crime fiction with a humorous twist. What I love most and usually seek out are mysteries with female leads. Which brought me to M. R. C. Kasasian’s Gower Street Detective Series.
Welcome March Middleton
Looking for historical mysteries, Goodreads came up with quite a few suggestions, among them the Gower Street Detective series with March Middleton. Describing it as a book “for those who like their crime original, atmospheric, and very, very funny” I had to get the first book of this series that contains five books in total.
But who is March Middleton? Most importantly, she is our narrator. Having lost her father a year prior, March joins her guardian and godfather, Sidney Grice, in London. Trained as a nurse to assist her father, a renowned surgeon, March has seen her fair share of blood and gore. Therefore, being well-prepared, she starts work side by side with Sidney Grice, London’s foremost personal detective – whether he likes it or not. Set in the early 1880s in Victorian London, this leads to interesting situations, especially when encountering rather old-fashioned characters. Never one to shy away from a challenge, March is determined to prove her critics wrong. While doing so, she records their adventures in five books – except for book three, Death descends on Saturn Villa, which is in part narrated by the grandmaster of crime-solving, Mr. Grice himself, due to March being impaired by some slight inconveniences.
Sidney Grice is, of course, another adaption of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. What distinguishes him from Mr. Holmes is his dry humor – even though he would not necessarily think of himself as ‘funny’ and prefer a simple ‘brilliant.’ March, as stated before, has a medical background working as a nurse with her father during wars and uprisings in India and Afghanistan.
Sounds familiar? It sure does. And readers who start this series expecting it to be close to home will be rather disappointed. M. R. C. Kasasian blends a solid and at times tricky mystery with – at least in my opinion – a good sense of humor, most evident in the dialogues. Throughout the series, the atmosphere of the books oscillate between hilarious exchanges and banters between some recurring characters and enthralling scenes of mischief, harm, and death. Which keeps the reader on edge while also granting her some funny and cheerful moments to lighten the mood.
‘Miss Middleton is always straight to disappoint’ – welcome Molly
One hilarious and important recurring character is Molly, Sidney Grice’s maid. Always eager to look busy and act as the perfect maid, Molly is one of my favorite characters. Demonstrating extraordinary conversational skills, she definitely is the funniest character throughout all five books. Not sure what I’m talking about? Let’s take a look at my favorite Molly moments:
This is Molly’s first appearance picking up March Middleton from the train station (in The Mangle Street Murders):
‘I’m very sorry to keep you waiting, but we had a dead duchess to deal with, and she was a lot more trouble dead than when she was alive.’
Sometimes, she is one step ahead even of Mr. Grice:
Her employer seized the telegram and ripped it open. ‘Tell the boy there is no reply.’
Molly put her hand to her mouth. ‘Oh sorry sir. I told him to go when he came. Do you want me to run after him and tell him not to wait?’
Her employer gazed fixedly at her. ‘You have put the cause of female suffrage right back where it belongs,’ he told her and she grinned again.
‘Thank you, sir. I do my best.’
She also prefers clear orders instead of vague requests and impresses with her verbal versatility:
‘There’s a man walking up and down outside,’ I told her and Molly guffawed.
‘No there ain’t not, miss. There’s thousands of them.’
‘This one is just outside the front door.’ I buttoned her collar. ‘Please call him in.’
I returned to the study.
‘Oy, you … yes you, pacey man with the big nustache. Bring your coat in with you inside it,’ Molly roared.
‘She get’s worse,’ Sidney Grice groaned.
‘That man what was walking up and down outside and Miss Middleton made me bring in,’ Molly announced disapprovingly before something lit up in her brain. ‘Oh it’s you, Sergeant Porridge.’ She beamed. ‘I didn’t not recognize you without your clothes on.’ She clamped her mouth. ‘Your uniform, I mean.’
‘I didn’t not think you cared for Roaming Cathlicks.’ Molly folded her arms with the air of a doorman who had been instructed to not admit anyone.
Last but not least, Molly is a very busy woman:
The bell rang three times before Molly got to the front door and I followed at her heels for its summons sounds urgent. [Inspector] George Pound stood on the steps.
‘Yes?’ Molly demanded.
‘I am on my way to the Midland,’ he announced over her head, ‘and I thought you and Mr. Grice might want to be there.’
‘Oh I ain’t not got no time for that.’ Molly sighed. ‘Take Miss Middleton instead.’
These little banters present delightful distractions to the otherwise often dark and gory murder stories March Middleton and Sidney Grice get involved in. Not to say that March and Mr. Grice don’t have entertaining and ambiguous conversations too. It’s just that Molly adds a sort of comical twist to the books that would otherwise be missing. One could say that these are low puns and more often than not indeed they are. But since I turn to this sort of literature in less than ideal times, I don’t mind laughing about these jokes – I’m happy to laugh at all 🙂
Five books so far …
The Gower Street Detective series comprises five titles, with the first being published in 2013 and the last in 2018. So far it seems that M. R. C. Kasasian isn’t planning on writing any more parts which makes me rather sad. I’m always happy when I find a book series I really like (which doesn’t happen all too often) and I miss Mr. Grice’s bitchiness and March’s ironic pragmatism. As a narrator she delights her readers with witty remarks, dry humor, and her sense of female camaraderie, always connecting with strong and inspiring women of her time.
Does this series portray the Victorian era historically accurate? Honestly, I don’t know. History taught us that every era has exceptional personalities, no matter their individual restrictions. It’s not like there could have never been a March Middleton in the 1880s. But experts of Victorian London will probably detect inaccuracies and a sort of poetic license that does not hold up in comparison to ‘true’ historical accounts. But then, on the other hand, what have we learned from Hayden White’s Metahistory if not that historiography itself develops its own kind of truth …
In short: Sidney Grice is no Sherlock Holmes, but rather a sort of earnest parody of this iconic character; March Middleton is no Dr. Watson, but rather a woman of her own as far as it is possible. Reading the Gower Street Detective series, do not expect to find a sequel of Doyle’s iconic duo, but rather an intriguing, humorous and critical variety of a well-known and established trope.
Do you like historical mystery books and don’t expect historical accuracy in every single detail? Do you love strong and interesting female characters and like your mysteries with a touch of humor? Then you might enjoy the Gower Street Detective series.
M. R. C. Kasasian has already started a new series, the Betty Church Mysteries, another historical mysteries series set in the 1940s during WWII. Already got book one and two of this series and I’m looking forward to meeting Betty soon. Just hope she gives me something to laugh about as well – amongst all murder and mayhem …
Thanks again for stopping by! If you have read any of M. R. C. Kasasian’s books let me know what you think of it 🙂