Cannonball Read IV: Dandy Gilver and An Unsuitable Day For A Murder by Catriona McPherson
Dandelion "Dandy" Gilver is a lady detective in inter-war Scotland. She travels around solving murders and mysteries while her husband Hugh runs the estate. This is the sixth novel in which she stars with her partner-in-crime-solving Alec, but it's easy to get the gist without having read the rest. Dandy is gaining something of a reputation, and is becoming more practiced at sifting through clues and interviewing suspects and witnesses. While she and Alec have a mutually fond and respectful relationship, and Alec is certainly no Dr Watson figure but intelligent and insightful, Dandy takes the lead; Alec is someone to discuss the case with, to go where Dandy as a woman in parochial 1920s Scotland cannot, and provide occasional diversion and muscle when necessary. Their relationship also provides comic relief, but Unsuitable Day is perhaps the least lighthearted of the books so far, which is in keeping with Dandy's growing maturity (even her charming Dalmatian Bunty is growing old) and deepening acquaintance with the seamier side of human existence. This shift in tone certainly makes for a gripping narrative, but I do miss the banter.
In this case, Dandy has been asked to solve the mystery of a missing department store (or Emporium as it's called in the book) heiress in the town of Dunfermline, where two merchant families rule the roost but hate each other. The heiress is presumed to have eloped with her young lover, a scion of the other family, but a more grisly fate is feared. Dandy thereby winds up in a mess of family secrets dating back for decades that complicate the mystery considerably. Even the question of whether the deaths in the novel are the result of murder or suicide is difficult, let alone determining motive from a morass of guilt and sin; blood among the prominent families of Dunfermline runs thicker than water because it's sticky with seduction and madness and betrayal.
I found Unsuitable Day to be a compelling, if bleak, read. The mystery hangs together better than in some of McPherson's other books, but the suspense is rarely relieved by the local colour and Dandy's musings on her past and the eccentricities of her upper class traditions that is done so smoothly in The Burry Man's Day (2nd in the series), for example. I would recommend the Dandy Gilver series for anyone who enjoys historical detective fiction, or books set in Scotland.
"Now we came to it; it was the family, of course, who interested me, the prospect of the family being questioned and having to give answers which had held me here all the long hours since I had stood watching Abigail Aitken cradling the gun in her lap, looking at her daughter, dry-eyed, expressionless, her chest rising and falling only a little and very slowly, as though she were enjoying a light sleep instead of waiting for her life to tumble down around her."
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This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.