In Farleigh Field is a stand-alone World War II mystery by Rhys Bowen, author of the popular Molly Murphy and Her Royal Spyness series. Farleigh is the stately home of Lord Westerham and his five daughters. While out riding, the youngest daughter, twelve-year-old Phoebe, and Alfie, an evacuee from London who lives with the gamekeeper, find the body of a parachutist who fell out of a plane when his parachute failed to open. The dead man wears the uniform of the regiment that is stationed at Farleigh, but the colonel does not recognize him and says all of his men are accounted for. Details about the parachutist’s uniform lead to suspicions that he might have been a German spy, sent to contact someone who lives near Farleigh. This means that one of the family, or one of their friends in the village nearby, could be a traitor.
MI5 agent Ben Cresswell, the vicar’s son and a friend of Lord Westerham’s daughters, investigates the people at Farleigh and in the village to discover who the traitor is. Ben is secretly in love with Pamela, Lord Westerham’s third daughter, but she loves Jeremy, a daredevil fighter pilot who has recently escaped from a German prisoner of war camp. Ben had wanted to join the RAF, but was declared unfit for service after injuring his knee in a plane crash that Jeremy caused. Pamela works at Bletchley Park, Britain’s top-secret codebreaking facility. At first she is given only menial tasks such as typing and filing papers, but eventually her boss recognizes her intelligence and gives her an assignment to search for secret codes in radio broadcasts that the Germans are using to contact Nazi sympathizers in England.
Meanwhile, the second daughter, Margot, is in occupied Paris studying with a famous fashion designer (a character clearly inspired by Coco Chanel), who is the mistress of a Gestapo officer. Margot’s French lover is active in the Resistance, but when he is captured, the Gestapo officer tries to make a bargain with Margot: he will spare her lover’s life if she agrees to act as a German agent in England. Will Margot turn traitor, or stay loyal to England?
In Farleigh Field is a very suspenseful novel, and full of details about life in England during World War II. The parts about the codebreakers of Bletchley Park are particularly fascinating. It comes as no surprise that the best assignments were given to men, and that it was unusual for a woman to actually do any codebreaking, instead of menial tasks. Also, we learn that there was much sympathy for the Nazis among a certain cricle of British aristocrats, even though, as Bowen explains in her author’s note, we will never know if they would have actively aided the Nazis if there had been a German invasion of Britain. I highly recommend In Farleigh Field, and fans of Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope mysteries should particularly enjoy it.
In Farleigh Field is available from the Browsing Collection in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.