‘Miss Marple with an edge’

Sara Sheridan
Sara Sheridan

Historical novelist Sara Sheridan started writing 1950s murder mysteries set in and around Brighton three years ago.

Her heroine, slick detective, Mirabelle Bevan, struck a chord with readers straight away and the atmospheric settings, both in Brighton and outside it, really captures post-war Sussex.

Set during the summer heatwave of 1953, Sara’s latest offering, England Expects, finds Mirabelle Bevan and her sidekick Vesta investigating the seemingly unrelated murders of a racing journalist and a local cleaning woman.

Their search leads them through Brighton Pavilion’s crumbling passageways to the quad of a Cambridge college and finally into the shady underworld of Brighton Freemasonry, which was subject to several real-life scandals over the course of the 1950s.

It’s this mix of fact and fiction that makes Sara’s books so compelling.

Just out, she has spoken of her excitement at the publication of England Expects.

“Three is a proper series,’ says Sara. “And like any author it’s exciting to see the books together on the shelf.”

Sara’s stories are known for their period detail and accurate representation of the sexism and racism of the era while retaining a good deal of nostalgic charm. Mirabelle Bevan has been called ‘Miss Marple with an edge’ and that just about sums her up. Unlike many cosy crime writers Sara does not shy away from the stark realities of post war England.

“During the 1950s people didn’t discuss anything personal,” she enthuses. “When I started to research the decade, I realised everyone was keeping secrets. That’s how the books ended up being mysteries…It was considered impolite to ask what someone did for a living, never mind speak directly about your feelings. England Expects is a book about secrets – secret love affairs, secret assignations and secret societies. That fascinated me.”

Sara first got the idea for her eponymous heroine from her father who was brought up in London and Brighton. In 1951 he spotted a well-dressed woman dodging a deckchair attendant because she didn’t want to pay for a seat. Decades later when he told Sara the story, she set out to write a short story about it. Already an historical novelist, she started by looking at the ’50s and the issues women faced.

“I quickly realised it wasn’t going to be a comic short, that’s for sure,” Sara smiles. “It was like walking through a door in a dream and the house inside, a house I knew, being completely redecorated.

“It was Brighton, but not as we know it now.

“Life was tough for women – women like my grandmother, who lived in Sussex for most of her life. I wanted to capture that.

“ I knew it was going to have to be a series that spanned the decade – the years Britain recovered from WWII. It was a time of poverty and hope and fantastic style! Every year was different from the last so I’m committed now to 11 books. That’s one a year from 1951 – 1961.”

With a growing following Mirabelle Bevan is the latest addition to the current bank of Sussex-based fictional detectives and was recently called ‘a crime force to be reckoned with.’

“She is,” Sara admits. “There is something formidable about her.

“If you’d committed a murder you wouldn’t want Mirabelle on your case.”

Win Sara Sheridan for your book group

Sara’s latest Mirabelle Bevan mystery, England Expects, is perfect autumn book group reading material and in an offer for Sussex Express readers, she has agreed to come along and join one lucky Sussex book group this autumn to talk about her books.

To win Sara for an evening, simply tell us, in less than 50 words, why your book group is special and why you deserve a visit from Sara in person.

Send your answer to julie@fourcade.co.uk by Friday, May 23.

Sara will select the winner herself and will be in touch by Friday, May 30.

Terms and conditions

- Only one entry per book group

- Sara Sheridan’s decision on the winner will be final and no correspondence will be entered into

- Date of attendance to be mutually agreed by all parties, some flexibility may be needed

- The winner must agree to discuss a novel from Sara’s Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries series at the group she attends

- This prize is for a maximum of two hours

- This prize is not transferable and there is no cash alternative