"Gone West" by Carola Dunn
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Break out the shortbread, pour out the tea, and toss another scuttle of coal on the grate: Daisy Dalrymple is headed for another drafty English manor house (okay: technically, it's a farm house, but a farm house with east and west wings).
To paraphrase P. B. Shelley-- and Daisy's fond of paraphrasing and quoting poetry-- "If Daisy comes, can murder be far behind?"
Actually, the school-days chum (okay: she's more of a bygone acquaintance) who issues the invite to Daisy to the Derbyshire estate admits a sinking suspicion that something's amiss at the place.
Specifically, her employer-- who writes pulp Western fiction under a nom de plume-- seems to be too-long-suffering from a bout of pneumonia. The eldest son of a parsimonious, overbearing sheep farmer, he gladly gadded about the American West whilst his brother and sister tended to not-so-dear-old Dad, the sheep, the tenants, and various and sundry drudgeries.
When their Dad counted sheep for the last time, his prodigal son was duly notified, returning to the estate with an American schoolmarm in tow and duly hitched, along with their son.
Thereupon, he put his travels to good use in his fiction, while his siblings settled in for years of moaning and groaning over the unfairness of it all. Hey, kids: Pops made out the will, not your bro. Go dig up a rhubarb from the kitchen garden and stick it in your pie holes.
So, at this juncture (September 1926), Daisy encounters the eldest (and ailing) son, his wife, and their son; the two dour siblings; a niece of the two brothers and sister who's quite the Bright Young Thing (primarily in the physical sense); a persistent, upper-crusty suitor of the BYT; and a youthful, Irish, would-be writer whom the actual writer's son met at university, in Leeds.
Plus, Daisy's school-days acquaintance, now live-in secretary for the writer, along with a physician who's been treating her mysteriously non-recovering employer going on two-plus years.
Author Carola Dunn devises a "closed-door" mystery after the classic fashion, with oodles of 1920s-era British house-party allure.
So much of the action takes places indoors that this novel could be commodiously adapted for the stage, carrying over much of its plentiful dialogue.
In such an instance, the parts of maids Betty and Etta (aka "Betta" and "Etty") ought to be stoked even further for comedic potential. Another supporting character, a police stenographer named Miss Stott, begs for a meatier role as well.
Indeed, the author's flirtations with comedy ought to flower into full-fledged romance in future endeavors.
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