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Book Author: Kelly Oliver

BETRAYAL AT RAVENSWICK by Kelly Oliver: Book Review

There’s a terrific internet site, American Book Review, that lists the best 100 opening lines (or paragraphs) of novels.  Number one, not surprisingly, is “Call Me Ismael.”  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” is another that would appear on most rolls.

In Betrayal at Ravenswick, the first in a new series by Kelly Oliver, these are the first two sentences:  “I should have poisoned him.  If only I’d had the chance.”  Perhaps #101?

Fiona Figg is in a happy marriage, or so she thinks, until she decides to surprise her husband by taking him to lunch at an elegant London hotel.  Warning to readers:  such surprises are usually not a good idea, at least in mystery novels.  She catches said husband and his secretary in an extremely compromising position in his office, and Fiona tells him, “It’s her or me.  Take your pick.”  Second warning:  giving errant husband this ultimatum makes a bad situation worse.

Fiona is the head filing clerk at the War Office.  Set in 1916, in the midst of World War I and before the United States enters the war, Fiona has already made one or two suggestions that the men in the cryptography group found useful; in fact, before the book opens she had cracked a code that had stumped the men.  So when she suggests a way to explain how the War Office got encrypted information from the Americans without letting the Americans know that their code has been broken, something they are definitely loath to do, she is invited to join them as an “honorary consultant.”

Five months after her marriage dissolves, Fiona gets the opportunity for a new start.  The men in the group are suspicious of a man purported to be a big game hunter and journalist who is on his way to visit a wealthy and titled Englishwoman and her family.  They can’t seem to find out very much about the background of the oddly-named Frederick Fredericks, and the agent who was supposed to tail him has broken his leg and is thus out of the picture.  Much to her own surprise, Fiona volunteers for the assignment, disguising herself as a male physician and entering the countess’ household.  In her younger days she had wanted to go on the stage, but she was told by her teacher that she would “never be an actress.”  Well, Fiona thinks, here’s her opportunity to prove Mrs. Benson wrong.

Betrayal at Ravenswick follows Fiona as she splits her time, first as “Dr. Vogel,” a specialist in poisons and female maladies, and also as a volunteer aide at Charing Cross Hospital, an arrival point for thousands of soldiers returning from the front.  The scenes of the wounded men are heartbreaking but beautifully written, and readers will feel as if they are on the wards, watching the doctors and nurses tending to the wounded.  Sulfur drugs and penicillin were years in the future, and the suffering of both the soldiers and those caring for them shows the pain and futility of war.

Kelly Oliver has introduced a smart and delightful heroine, one with enough self-confidence to take on a difficult and dangerous assignment but whose issues of low self-esteem, especially in light of her recent divorce, makes her totally human.  Fiona is a protagonist I would enjoy meeting again.

You can read more about Kelly Oliver at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.