It’s 1941 in Romsey, England, in Claire Gradidge’s fine mystery, The Unexpected Return of Josephine Fox. This is another of Auntie M’s TBR personal file from other crime writers’ recommendations.

Jo hasn’t been to her hometown for two decades, after her grandfather unceremoniously threw her out. Born out of wedlock, her mother had already been banished from the family home.

But the young woman, who’s husband is missing in action, returns to uncover who her father was, after her mother dies without telling her.

Needing a job, she arrives the day after the local pub has been bombed, and soon finds herself the coroner’s assistant. But the waters soon muddy when the bodies found in the pub are increased by one unexpected body that doesn’t seem to have suffered bomb damage, that of a teenaged girl, unknown in the area.

The coroner is her childhood friend, Bram Nash, who has suffered his own war injuries, and works at a local law firm as he carries out his coroner duties. The two will set out to discover who the unknown girl was, with Jo bearing the brunt of the investigation. And as she searches for this young girl’s identity, she also finds herself coming closer and closer to the truth of her own parentage.

Atmospheric, with an authentic voice, and with a determined protagonist in Jo, this was the winner of the 2019 Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition. Readers will root for Jo and hope to see her return.