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Miss Aldridge Regrets by Louise Hare

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Miss Aldridge Regrets

by Louise Hare
July 5, 2022 · Berkley

I have a confession to make: the actual mystery in mystery novels is usually not very interesting to me. I don’t care who died, or how, or who dun it. Yet I eat up historical mystery novels like M&Ms, because in a mystery novel we often have a detective (official or unofficial) who, in the course of their investigation, gets to talk to people from a variety of classes and backgrounds, which I find fascinating. Miss Aldridge Regrets is one of these novels, with a generous helping of noir.

The book takes place on the Queen Mary in 1936, with flashbacks that take place in London a few weeks prior to the scenes on the Queen Mary. Lena Aldridge is a singer who performs at a Soho club. She was raised by her Black father, Alfie, who was also a musician, and never met her White mother.

When Charlie Walker, a mysterious ‘fixer,’ shows up and offers her a role on Broadway, she accepts. The only catch is that in order to maximize funding, she will need to spend the ocean passage befriending the very rich Abernathy family. Oh, she should also present herself as White. Then people in the Abernathy family keep dying, and Lena has to guard a secret of her own.

Once people start dying off, Lena puts herself into a bit of a detective mode, but she’s fairly passive about it, mostly trying to keep herself on good footing with the Abernathys and trying to keep herself from being blamed for anything. Also, in keeping with noir tradition, she drinks a LOT more than seems strategically wise given her situation. It’s not so much that she goes out drunkenly looking for clues, but that everyone in the family wants to confide in her – so if you prefer a more aggressive, proactive detective, you might get frustrated with the constantly either tipsy or hungover heroine.

Lena’s iffy moral choices lend the novel a touch of noir moodiness but also make her a difficult protagonist for me to attach to. The club she worked at was attached to a brothel (same building, owner, and many shared customers) that victimized very young girls. Lena was one of many that knew about it but chose not to report it – not only for her own protection but because the owner, Tommy, was bribing the police anyway. She covers up a murder, she uses cocaine, she lies, she drinks heavily, and she’s kind of a crappy friend. In short, Lena is not an evil or amoral person by any means, but she is focused on her own survival and although she is capable of feeling a great deal of compassion for people, she is also capable of ruthless behavior.

Lena is interesting because her skin tone, her parentage, her profession, and her current mission, not to mention the liminal state that everyone exists in while at sea, all place her in a nebulous state that allows her to talk to everyone. She travels all over the ship and interacts with everyone from the filthy rich passengers in First Class to the ship’s employees. It’s a lot of fun to see how the upper third lives, with their endless attentive service, a store for every possible need, loads of food, and flowers, and private cabins for all.

But it’s even more interesting to go below decks to The Pig and Whistle, a makeshift pub in a loading dock area that is populated at night by the ship’s staff, as well as passengers from all different levels of the ship who want a more covert and informal experience. Lena strikes up a secret short-term romance with Will. She also becomes the confidant of everyone associated with the Abernathys purely because she is both of the family (she sits at their table every night, along with Charlie Walker, who urges her to charm them) and not of their family.

Sadly, the family members themselves are purely stock characters:

  • Super old rich guy Francis Parker
  • Parker’s frustrated Jewish physician, Doctor Wilding
  • Parker’s put-upon personal servant, Daisy
  • Parker’s Nazi-sympathizer son-in-law, Jack Abernathy
  • Jack’s miserable wife, Eliza Abernathy
  • Jack’s daughter, Carrie, who wants a career despite her family’s wishes

These characters get very little depth other than their basic descriptions above, which is too bad – even when secrets are revealed about this family, they don’t progress or change my perception of the family members and staff.

I have to confess that the resolution of this mystery left me confused. I understood who did it, but I didn’t understand why, or why said person changed their mind about a particular, crucial element of their plan at the last minute. Lena, however, true to form, makes all of her decisions from a place of self-protection from the beginning of the book to the end. From the standpoint of standard storytelling, she’s not a heroic figure, but who can blame her for putting herself first in a world where no one else does?

Ultimately this mystery is weak on the actual mystery front. However, the description of an entertainer’s life in Soho and a passenger’s life on the Queen Mary is fascinating, and while Lena is an interesting person who always seems to be either doing or listening to or watching interesting things. On those levels, I really liked this book, and recommend it for fans of that time period.

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