Eighty years of secrets. A body that reveals them all.
1940. At Yew Tree House, recently widowed Adelaide Stride is raising her two daughters alone – but it’s not just the threat of German invasion that keeps her up at night. She is surrounded by enemies posing as allies and, while war rages, she grows sure that something terrible is about to happen.
2023. Soon after Stella Darnell begins her holiday at Yew Tree House, a skeleton is found in a pillbox at the bottom of the garden. The bullet hole in the skull tells her that the person was murdered.
This triggers the unravelling of a mystery eighty years in the making. Soon, Stella will learn that Adelaide was right to worry – the fighting might have been happening abroad, but the true enemy was always much closer to home…
A unique take on the traditional murder mystery from critically acclaimed author, Lesley Thomson, for fans of Elly Griffiths, Val McDermid and Mari Hannah.
The Mystery of Yew Tree House is the ninth psychological procedural in the Detective’s Daughter series featuring Stella Darnell and her partner Jack Harmon as they investigate a mystery with its roots in WWII Sussex. My thanks to Poppy of Ransom PR for the tour invitation. My introduction to Lesley’s books was with The Companion last year, reviewed on the blog.
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Format: Ebook, Audio, Hardback (14 September 2023)
| Paperback (11 April 2024)
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING…
‘Lesley Thomson at her considerable best – you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll never guess.’ ELLY GRIFFITHS
‘Always a treat reading Lesley Thomson.’ IAN RANKIN
The background to The Mystery of Yew Tree House – by Lesley Thomson
My inspiration for The Mystery of Yew Tree House came from the many ‘pillboxes’ dotted around the Sussex countryside where I live. Red-brick structures, they are close to the sea, some are further inland, there to oversee bridges and other routes that the expected invasion of Hitler’s Nazi army might take. They were generally defended by members of the Home Guard, not the Dad’s Army of the comedy show, in real life the men were tougher and more competent than the image this portrayed.
As is so often the case with this crime writer – when my attention is caught by a place, I think of ‘putting a body’ there. I came up with the idea that a skeleton that could be dated back to WWII would be found in a disused pillbox at the bottom of the garden of a large cottage I called Yew Tree House.
As the title implies, I envisaged a Christie/Ngaio Marsh Golden Age type mystery. While much of narrative is sent in the present day, there chunks that start in 1940/41 and finish in 1945.
We learn the day to day reality for the Stride family living in Yew Tree House, joining them for the funeral of Rupert Stride, father to Stevie and Rosa and husband to Adelaide who has been murdered in blitzed London. We meet the daughters as elderly women in 2023.
To enter 1940s Britain, I read extensively, wartime diaries, books about the home front and about pillboxes. The latter led me to discover the existence of what is often called Churchill’s Secret Army. Men – and women – who were recruited supposedly into the Home Guard, but in fact into what was called an Auxiliary Unit.
Trained at a secret location up country, essentially a guerilla force, they were expected to launch attacks on the invading army and withdraw. With a Fairbairns-Sykes dagger, they would cut someone’s throat from behind and get out. Butcher and bolt. At the end of the war, these recruits were cut loose without pensions or praise and, having signed the Official Secrets Act must never divulge what they did in the war. There were medals, but you had to pay for them.
This running undercurrent of secrecy and violence formed an ideal background to the supposedly ‘cosy’ picture of a village at war. The idea too that there were private enmities as well as the national one added a further complexity.
As with all my novels, my characters grow out of the story or a dynamic. There might be a jumping off point – my curate-vicar Michael Snace owes something to Trollope’s Obadiah Slope – but quickly takes on his own life according the plot. Jack’s twins Milly and Justin play a key role in the story. I enjoy writing children, their imaginations, their lack of inhibition and skewed perhaps clear view of the world and potentially a rich source of drama.
The location is mainly the village of Bishopstone. However, inhabitants of the real village will find few points where reality meets fiction. Jack wants his children to see where his mother is buried so I was tied to that location but have fictionalised it to allow for a high street and a village pond that I transported from Lindfield some twenty miles away.
We see the village in the present day, but are privy to what life was like there eighty years ago too. The gravestones that Jack and Stella see are of people we have met when they were younger. This telescoping of time brings the past into the present, the very elderly people in my story are, I hope, seen through the lens of when they were young and active.
As with The Companion, I wanted to write a country house murder, with the classic tropes of a ‘green back Penguin, a vicar, a grumpy colonel, postmistress, the widow of a pillar of the community (solicitor) and show how a way of life was interrupted by war’.
Lesley Thomson grew up in west London. Her first novel, A Kind of Vanishing, won the People’s Book Prize in 2010. Her second novel, The Detective’s Daughter, was a #1 bestseller and the resulting series has sold over 750,000 copies. Lesley divides her time between Sussex and Gloucestershire. She lives with her partner and her dog.