"Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains"
by Catriona McPherson
Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 291 pp., $23.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
When a historical novel reads as well as a keenly observed contemporary novel of the same period--
When its characters and dialogue are absolutely spot-on--
When the author's stylistics exhibit the hallmarks of a wordsmith--
And, when there are a Dalmatian and a spaniel in the mix--
Then, pour out the tea and serve up the ginger sponge and custard.
Scottish writer (the name's a bit of a giveaway, eh?) Catriona McPherson places her 40-year-old (give or take) private investigator, Dandy (Dandelion) Gilver in an Edinburgh manse during May 1926, her services having been requested by the young mistress, who fears for her life at the (strangling) hands of her wealthy husband.
Dandy's to pose as milady's lady's maid in order to obtain an insider's take on the situation.
This being a murder rmystery, you probably have a grasp on who's "pegging out" and who's going to be blamed.
Nevertheless, there're twelve servants living below stairs, and the author characterizes each and every one with polish and a chamois-gloved hand.
Beyond the downstairs staff, there's a hard-pressed police superintendent who's up to his celluloid collar in a general strike of coal miners, transportation workers, and other laborers.
Furthermore, the mistress of the manor's veritable virago of a great-aunt out-Bracknells Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell, whilst Dandy herself is a most appealing central character, owing to her foibles and fallibilities.
Indeed, she's far from a Miss Marple, secluding her observational genius in some vicaraged village.
Rather, Dandy is both informed and uninformed, yet largely enlightened. You cannot blame her for getting away from her own manor (in the country) and her pontificating husband, Hugh, even if Dandy must abandon her pet Dalmatian, Bunty, at turns.
Intelligent persons call in an expert to make up for their own deficiencies, and Dandy certainly has a sleuthing partner in neighbor Alec Osborne.
Indeed, she seems better partnered with Alec than with Hugh, but that's the way the shortbread crumbles.
Speaking of shortbread, break out your own (if you've no ginger sponge and custard); steep a pot of rich, dark tea; and enjoy this treat of a mystery.
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