I really enjoyed this book, but it required me to suspend my knowledge of the earlier Miss Seeton books, those by the original author Heron Carvic. Carvic's Miss Seeton is somewhat dithering. She's sweet and genuine and a "relic" of a more refined era with its own issues. She is totally unaware of her value and definitely unaware of the havoc she brings about for the "bad guys" around her. It is this havoc and the obvious and very comic frustration of the villains that make the stories delightfully funny and a joy to read.
Some of the books written by a second author, Charles Hampton, Miss Seeton by Appointment (Heron Carvic's Miss Seeton) are more cynical and even harsh. Some of the funniest subsidiary characters were turned into very unpleasant rather than amusing people, and that's when I stopped reading the books. Only recently have I started reading them again. Having successfully managed to make a transfer to the reborn Nero Wolfe, Three at Wolfe's Door (The Rex Stout Library), under the skillful authorship of Robert Goldsborough Silver Spire: A Nero Wolfe Mystery, I decided I'd try again with the Miss Seeton series produced by this new author.
Ms Crane--a very apropos pseudonym for Sarah Mason who also writes under her own name, Party Girl: A Novel--has done a fine job of returning some of the merriment to the series. The Nutts especially have flourished under her more sympathetic pen and the Colvedons, a very lovely family, are again in full flower. Yet even Ms Mason does not seem to have captured the essential Miss Seeton and seems to have put the character onto a more rarified plain of her own.
This book has moved even further away from the original author's Miss Seeton. It is 1940's England and Miss Seeton is a woman in her 30s called upon to assist MI5 as she does Scotland Yard in modern times. She is employed to find sabatours in an aircraft factory through her psychic art. This Miss Seeton is more rooted in the world as it really is. While she continues with her internal struggle over doing the right thing, she's much more pragmatic than the Carvic Seeton and more aware of the implications of events. The threats to her are real and anything but amusing. In this book she's a young version of Agathat Christies' Miss Marple,Miss Marple: the Complete Short Stories, and one might have expected her to age into that type of elderly person rather than into the comical Miss Seeton that she does. So there is still a major mismatch.
That said, however, I enjoyed the new Miss Seeton as a character by herself. It is as though she is a new rather than an old one. I'd enjoy more of the series in this venue and with this temperment. As a prequel, the story says much about from whence some of her foibles come, but it doesn't really tell you how she became the much less personally competent individual she is in Carvic's mysteries.
"Miss Seeton's Finest Hour" is well written as a mystery. There were abundant clues and even more abundant red herrings. Although I felt I knew who was not the culprit and had a feeling I knew who was, I really did not tumble to the guilty party until the end. Here a very delft slight of hands misdirected me. As a historic murder mystery I felt it was well written and well researched. Though it does not have the magnificent prose style of the Maisy Dobbs mysteries, Maisie Dobbs (Book 1) , by Jacqueline Winspear or the Reavel Family mysteries, We Shall Not Sleep: A Novel (World War I), by Anne Perry it is still an expertly written book.
A fine mystery to be enjoyed on its own merits but don't expect the original Miss Seeton.