(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Unlike the cozy mysteries of the Golden Age, Ann Granger’s village stories have serious themes. One of the author’s preoccupations is the loss of a sense of community in rural England. She points out that the cottages where the same families had lived for generations are now occupied by strangers from the city, to whom the village is no more than a pleasant weekend retreat. The newcomers are not inquisitive; they do not scrutinize their neighbors’ doings and often do not even know their names. While this way of life enhances privacy, it weakens the community, for villagers no longer feel responsible for their neighbors or for the village as a whole. As a result, criminal activity is made much easier, and as Mitchell and Markby find over and over again, solving crimes becomes much more difficult.

Granger also fears that the natural beauty of the Cotswolds, where her series is set, will soon be lost forever. She admits that with farming less and less profitable, it is difficult for long-established farm families to hold onto their land. Granger is sympathetic toward the young men and women in her novels who remain on the land, working harder and harder, while they secretly resolve to sell out and leave as soon as their parents are dead. One of the recurring characters in the series is developer Dudley Newman. With her usual honesty, Granger does not show him as a villain but instead as a pleasant person who makes no secret of the fact that his goal in life is to make money. Unfortunately, Newman values the natural setting only as a backdrop for the houses he erects and as a further inducement for city dwellers to come to what they mistakenly believe will continue to be an unspoiled paradise.

Though the Mitchell and Markby books deal with serious issues, they are enlivened by the presence of colorful characters, by references to local history and persistent rural customs, and by frequent flashes of wit and humor, especially in the exchanges between the two principal characters. It is also to Granger’s credit that even in a series with more than a dozen mysteries, she has managed to keep every book unique. Even the relationship between Mitchell and Markby is constantly changing; in one book, they seem closer to commitment, while in the next, it is clear...

(The entire section is 932 words.)