"Sheer Folly" by Carola Dunn
Minotaur, 296 pp., $24.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
For those who savor British mysteries, heavily flavored with charm, drollery, and exquisite period details (in this case, 1926), then Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple (she's now plain old Mrs. Fletcher) fills the bill.
Daisy would take umbrage at the word "old" anywhere preceding her name, so let's call her an "aging ingenue." No-- that's a backhanded compliment-- let's settle on "young matron."
Ah, nothing like a "young" to modify one's moniker. The mother of toddling twins, Daisy is still delighting in her marriage to Alec Fletcher, chief detective inspector with Scotland Yard. Seems to add to the wedded bliss that he's often got an interesting case in the offing.
Nevertheless, Alec arrives rather late on the scene of this adventure, in which Daisy and old (hard to avoid that bit of bosh here) school chum Lucy, wed to Lord Gerald Bincombe, have wound up at a Wiltshire estate to garner photos (Lucy) and copy (Daisy) for a volume on architectural follies.
The chief attraction at Appsworth Hall is the lovingly restored grotto fashioned in and outside the limestone caves on the property, and adorned with Greco-Roman-inspired statuary. Their host, Brin Pritchard, has made a fortune in modern plumbing fixtures and has acquired the estate from the in-dire-straits Appsworths.
Not that he's a wannabe, although his sister-in-law, Winifred Howell, goes gaga over anyone with a title, so it's not surprising that she has unilaterally invited some (rather lacking) lords and ladies to round out a weekend house party.
Chief among them is the detestable Lord Rydal, or "Rhino," who would be better nicknamed "Skunko," as he is having an affair with a married lady (at least by her title) while clumsily courting another school chum of Daisy and Lucy, Julia Beaufort.
Something tells us that Rhino is going to bite the dust, safari or no, with suspects aplenty, given his penchant for offending anyone within earshot.
Author Carola Dunn glows with her wordplay and spot-on portrayal of her characters and their milieu. The only quibble is that the story is a tad drawn out, and the second half therefore lacks suspense. We had high hopes for Rhino's virago of a great-aunt or some such menacing matriarch to come swooping down on Appsowrth Hall, seeking revenge on one and all, beginning with Pritchard, for even constructing the grotto, down through the guest list, for allowing Rhino's demise.
Also, given Dunn's propensity for punning and her literary allusions, we wonder why she overlooked including a reference to Alexander Pope's famous grotto. Given Mrs. Howell's virulent anti-papacy, there would have been at least one good pun off the great poet's name.
Although the marmalade is spread a bit thin at times in the course of this eighteenth "Daisy Dalrymple" mystery, the author's style and panache ultimately carry the day.
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