Grab yourself a cuppa, and settle in with the first Lane Winslow historical mystery, A Killer in King’s Cove. Set in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada (near Nelson, BC), the novel has the feel of a classic British village cozy mystery. The series lead is a British expat and ex-intelligence officer who decides to settle in a remote Canadian town for a quieter life, away from the intrigue and double-dealing that her former job required.
The first few chapters begin like many British cozies, with Lane meeting her new neighbours over cups of tea, and getting an initial peek into the various relationships and intrigues amongst the townsfolk. There are nods to the Canadian wilderness setting, mostly in people doubting Lane’s ability as a single woman to rough it in the bush without a big, strong man at her side. But mostly, the atmosphere is gentle and genteel, and you just know there’ll be more to these neighbours than meets the eye.
Indeed, a few chapters in, a dead body is found in the creek, with Lane’s name on a paper in his pocket. It turns out that the dead man is linked to Lane’s former job. The author gives us glimpses of his story leading up to his fateful trip to Canada, and the corresponding response of British intelligence to the news. All this adds intriguing hints of international espionage to the plot, a la Maisie Dobbs, but overall, the novel maintains its intimate, cozy mystery feel. I’m personally glad it did, because I’m more a fan of village cozies than spy thrillers, and the author has given us plenty of intrigue as it is, amongst Lane’s neighbours.
I love the touches of feminist commentary that the author includes in the novel. One of the reasons Lane slips so easily under the radar as an intelligence officer is that, because she’s a woman, people easily believe she held a boring office job during the war. There’s also a subplot involving a young man who is thrilled to see a woman his age moving into town, and things unfortunately turn ugly when Lane declines his advances.
Mostly, though, there is the contrast between a man from Lane’s past, and Inspector Darling, her likely future love interest. Lane remembers the man from her past as hiding things from her. He is older, and now, with the benefit of hindsight, Lane can see how much she looked up to him, and how patronizing his attitude actually was. At one point, he describes Lane to another character as being “compliant,” which he means as a compliment, and if Lane had been around to hear it, I like to think she would’ve slapped him for that.
In contrast, Inspector Darling respects Lane as an equal. He recognizes the validity of her theories, and even teases his assistant, Constable Ames, that he should learn from Lane’s methods. In perhaps the loveliest bit of romance in the novel, Darling tells Lane, referring to the man from her past, “Miss Winslow, he cannot hold a candle to you.” His wording surprises Lane, because she would have expected him to say the man was “not worthy or not worth it,” meaning that she should just move on from him. Instead, Darling’s phrasing sets her up as the man’s equal, and “she could not remember ever being compared equally to a man, especially not by a man” (397-398). It’s a pointed reminder of the time this story is set, and it also sets the stage for a potential new kind of relationship for Lane, one where she is valued not just as a woman, but as a human being. I’m all for this Inspector Darling / Lane Winslow romance, and I can’t wait to see how it develops over the rest of the series.
Thank you to Touchwood Editions for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.