The Companion

“I felt uncomfortable with this piece of reasoning. But if, as Frank had gallantly declared, I was intelligent enough to puzzle this out, then I was also aware enough to know that the talent was an unsettling one.”

I’d never heard of Ann Granger before randomly pulling The Companion from the shelf, but apparently she already has two established modern mystery series. This is her first historical novel, set in 1864.

After the death of her father, a country doctor, Lizzie Martin comes to London to act as companion to her godfather’s widow Mrs. Parry. Once there she learns about her predecessor, Madeleine Hexam, who mysteriously eloped several months before. Mrs. Parry, her nephew Frank, and frequent visitor Dr. Tibbett are all reluctant to talk about Miss Hexam–and even more so when she turns up dead. But Inspector Benjamin Ross can’t help turning a suspicious eye on the household, especially as Mrs. Parry is connected to the abandoned slum town slated for destruction where the body was found. Lizzie finds herself torn between justice and loyalty, no easy choice for any dependent woman and one that could cost her safety.

First of all, I really liked Lizzie as a character. She is intelligent and independent without being over the top for her time, and has a legitimate reason for her traits. In many ways, in fact, she reminded me of Nancy Drew. She was raised in a small town by only a housekeeper and a professional father who was usually willing to indulge his daughter’s curiosity about the ways of the world. He also, however, instilled in her a strong sense of right and wrong to make up for her ignorance of traditional decorum. Curiosity and intelligence lead her to question the current affair, but her continued involvement is primarily a quest of justice for Miss Hexam. She is also aware that her character is unusual in London society and tries to maintain the proper poise, with varying success.

At times it almost seemed to me that the mystery was a secondary element of the story rather than a source of suspense, though that may be a natural reaction after just reading Agatha Christie. Instead Granger set up all the characters in the beginning and let them interact, waiting for the murderer to finally make a revealing mistake. Tangible evidence played an occasional important role and led to some keen deductions; otherwise it was routine questionings and speculation. My guesses at the culprit relied almost primarily on behavior.

Granger more than made up for the mystery’s lack of immediacy with the rest of the story, however. In addition to Lizzie the supporting characters are all well-drawn and inspire the intended reactions throughout the plot. I was especially fond of the spunky serving girl Bessie, who one Wally observed would “make some poor devil a hard-working, reliable wife some day, and whoever he may be, he has [his] sympathy.” Even the romance was plausibly sweet, as the characters had a prior connection.

Ann Granger is also not afraid to tackle the broader setting. She not only captures Victorian London and Derbyshire but also brings up pertinent issues of the time. The way characters view Darwin’s theories help reveal their personalities. The dangers of coal mining Lizzie witnessed as a child were a strong influence on her. Inspector Ross represents the new middle class  of workers who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, but at the same time has a firsthand sympathy for the poor in the slums.

There is a second book already available and a third in the works, but I’m actually hesitant to look them. I enjoyed The Companion so much as a standalone novel that I don’t want to ruin the effect. I’ll have to look for reviews of the sequel to see how it fared with readers.

Published in: on October 9, 2009 at 4:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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