The Key to Deceit
reviewed by Linda Baker
The McDonnell family lives in London’s East End and is well known for locksmithing. They also do a little safe-cracking on the side when economic circumstances require it. The only girl in the family, Electra, grew up learning locksmithing at her Uncle Mick’s knee and is an expert.
But as a woman in the WWII era, Electra is usually laughed at by prospective customers until she proves what she can do. Uncle Mick and her cousins, Colm and Toby, have no such reservations, and Electra is a welcome part of the safe-cracking side of the business. In the previous book, His Majesty’s Government, in the form of the upright and reserved Major Ramsey, offers the McDonnell family an offer they can’t refuse; forgiveness for previous crimes in exchange for help with the War effort. Part of the deal is the cessation of all illegal activities. The McDonnells agree as they are patriots; besides, England is in the “phony war,” waiting for Germany’s inevitable attack.
Electra proved her mettle in her first case, A Peculiar Combination, so it is no surprise when Major Ramsey has a new investigation for her. A girl has turned up drowned in the Thames wearing a bracelet adorned with a unique locket. When Electra opens the locket, it has microfilm inside. The young woman was involved with espionage, but why and who would kill her? She appeared a regular country girl who was looking for a new life in London in all respects. This investigation will take Electra and Major Ramsey into perilous territory as the Blitz finally arrives. The descriptions of those first nights of the bombing are riveting.
The Key to Deceit is another enjoyable entry in the series, combining a puzzle to solve, adventure, suspense, with a light touch of romance. Will she or won’t she, and if so, with whom? A secondary, important mystery is Electra’s quest to find out more about her mother, who died in prison after giving birth to her. She supposedly killed Electra’s father but always denied it and was believed by many. Electra’s Uncle Mick was her father’s brother and took her in, raising her as one of his own. Not surprisingly, it was never discussed in his household. Readers of cozy historical mysteries should enjoy the Electra McDonnell series immensely.
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