MURDER ON THE HOME FRONT - Molly Lefebure
Told in her own voice, Miss Molly Lefebure is tempted from her role as a journalist to work closely as secretary to one of the earliest "famous" forensic pathologists in England - Dr Keith Simpson. Set in war-time London, the work of civilian authorities continued, often in defiance of the chaos around them, investigating both unusual or suspicious deaths, as well as the results of the Blitz bombings.
During in the 1940's the idea of a female secretary sitting right beside the pathologist, typing his reports as an autopsy proceeds was probably just another slightly unexpected twist in a lot of forays by women into the unusual. Lefebure explains her reaction to the close up view of violent, sad or sordid death in a matter-of-fact way, albeit with a very mannered tone and via some selective observations. It often seems that the state of the housekeeping of the various crime sites caused much more distress than the state of the bodies being investigated. It's definitely a memoir of its time in that way, originally written in the 1950's with attitudes firmly of that time. There were points where it was impossible to avoid cringing - it almost seemed that unsatisfactory housewives were only marginally more acceptable than the worst of violent offenders.
There is, however, a particular sense of humour working it's way through the threads of these various tales which is dry, very stiff-upper lipped and sardonic. It could, however, be easy to miss, and sometimes Lefebure can come across as rather judgemental and snobbish. Which was a pity as much of the underlying detail - the poverty, the desperate circumstances, the quiet determination of the population, the insight into wartime civilian life was excellent. The brutality of murder certainly didn't seem to abate at all nor did the desperation that drove some people to suicide. In some cases it seems that the war simply provided a convenient cover-up, a trigger or even perhaps a reason for people to make mistakes, do daft things, or simply behave as badly as they do at any other time in life.
MURDER ON THE HOME FRONT has been snapped up for TV adaptation, which is not at all surprising. It's an opportunity for a look at the early days of forensic science, as well as the very early days of the change in women's roles in society. Worth a look if you're interested in either of those subjects. Miss Lefebure was, at the time of the media release that came with the book, alive, in her nineties, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and living in Cumbria, United Kingdom. Unfortunately she has since died.
It is 1941. There may be a 'war of chaos' in the skies over London, but 'the perpetual war against the underworld of crime' must nevertheless continue on the streets below.
At 12 o'clock on a Spring day in a London Coroner's Court, famed forensic pathologist Dr Keith Simpson asks young journalist Molly Lefebure if she might like to become his secretary. Recalling the 'horror of secretarial work and secretarial young ladies', she turns him down flat, resolving to stick to twelve-hour days covering 'everything from Boy Scout meetings to the blitz'.
By 3 o'clock that afternoon, curious about exactly what goes on behind a mortuary door, Molly has changed her mind. It is the beginning of an extraordinary adventure. 'Miss Molly' becomes Dr Simpson's right-hand woman, following him to crime scenes, courtrooms and mortuaries, taking notes, collecting evidence and witnessing the most shocking of sights.
'You'll never regret going to work in the mortuaries, Miss Molly,' a coroner's officer told her. 'There's never a dull moment with the bodies around.'