My thanks to Allison and Busby and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.
Murder at the Savoy is the second in the Hotel Mysteries series by Jim Eldridge, set in 1940s London in the midst of the blitz. In this historical mystery, we follow Chief Inspector Coburg who is from an aristocratic background, his older brother being Magnus, Lord Dawlish. Coburg has recently married Rosa Weekes, a jazz singer (whom I think he met on his first outing). As the book opens, we meet Coburg and Rosa in a bomb shelter with the rest of the residents of their block of flats. Alongside, in the more affluent bomb shelter beneath the Savoy, a group of East-enders from Stepney are demanding entry, protesting against such a strong shelter being reserved only for the wealthy. The deputy manager allows them in, and makes suitable arrangements separate from the hotel’s paying guests.
The next morning however, one of the hotel’s guests, the Earl of Lancaster, is found stabbed. While Coburg is called in by Savoy owner, Rupert D’Oyly Carte, someone else places a call to the local police, and Coburg’s nemesis Inspector Lomax takes charge of the matter, arresting Lancaster’s son, the rebellious William (who was part of the Stepney group). Lady Lancaster insists William is innocent and wants Coburg to investigate. He is reluctant but once the commissioner is appealed to, and appropriate orders are issued, he takes over, much to the ire of Lomax (who can’t see beyond Coburg’s privileged background). As Coburg with his deputy Lampson begin to investigate, they find that Lancaster was a womaniser hated by many (his own wife among them) and more than one person had reason to want to do away with him. There seems enough evidence to let William go for the present, but as soon as he is released, another death takes place.
Meanwhile, Lady Winship, a guest at the Savoy, arranges for Rosa to be invited to the Savoy to perform, while also inviting her to one of her and her husband’s soirees. Rosa’s suspicions are aroused and at the party she finds a group of people conspiring to end the war for England, in favour of Hitler. She also finds a surprising guest and after talking it over with Coburg, decides to keep up the acquaintance and see just what they are up to.
This turned out to be an enjoyable and interesting historical mystery/police procedural. Despite it being a second in series, I found it quite easy to follow the storyline, with enough background on Coburg, Rosa, Lampson, and others to not feel lost. I think this can be read as a standalone as well.
The author brings out really well the atmosphere that Londoners had to live in back then—houses being destroyed all around one, people killed, having to live in fear every moment, and with little communication with loved ones—and this was a state of affairs that went on for nearly 6 years. And amidst all this, ‘normal’ life must still go on, people have livelihoods to earn, families to look after and provide for, and of course there is crime to be checked as well. (In his acknowledgements, the author contrasts this—a time he was himself born in—with what people have faced during the last 18 months or so of covid, and one does realise reading it how much luckier we are, compared to things back then.)
I loved that this mystery combined real-life and fictional characters. At the Savoy (my second bookish visit there this year—the first being The Secret Life of the Savoy)—there is its owner Rupert D’Oyly Carte, Winston Churchill makes a brief appearance as do Oswald Mosley and Diana (while correct in other instances, in chapter 31 in my proof copy, Diana Mosley was wrongly referred to as Unity, something I hope has been corrected in the final version), and we also meet Agatha Christie, back in the pharmacy as Mrs Mallowan, who helps out the medical examiner and DCI Coburg with some information on poisons.
The investigation was interesting to follow, and I wasn’t sure almost till the end who did it and why; there is as is usual in mysteries more than one death, and one can’t quite work out the precise connection between them either till it is explained. I also liked the parallel threads including the conspiracy plot and how that was foiled, and the odious Lomax’s attempts to get ‘revenge’ on Coburg, which really had me wondering as to its resolution.
All in all, this was a good read, with likeable characters, an interesting mystery and other plotlines, great combination of real and fictional characters, and a backdrop that was very well done. I am looking forward to picking up more entries in this series!