Tag Archives: period piece

Hammer to Fall

Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder: A Mystery by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur, $24.99, 304 pages)

Dandy Gilver is a proper lady living in Scotland during the 1930s.   She is also a detective married to a respectable nobleman and the mother of two sons.   Dandy is the narrator for this series of remarkably detailed and charming period pieces.   Unsuitable Day is the latest in the series written by Catriona McPherson, who was born in Scotland and now resides in Davis, California.

Readers who delight in location details, period pieces and wicked humor are the audience for this book.   There are red herrings, plot twists, gruesome murders and a bit of class warfare that make each page an experience in itself.   Author McPherson’s writing is dedicated to immersing the reader in all things Scottish and particularly those of a small nature.

Perfect escapism is rarely presented in a murder mystery.   There are usually jumps in the story line that create ambiguities to throw the reader off the trail of the killer.   Being thrown off in that way has a tendency to break the spell.   Unsuitable Day goes in the other direction.   There are so many specifics and events that the reader is transported straightaway to the other side of the ocean and into the past.   This reviewer lost track of time during the reading of the book.   Perhaps that’s due to the lack of technology in the story, or maybe it’s the fascinating details related to running a department store in post-World War I.   Regardless, the escape happens and not only will future episodes be welcome, maybe a bit of catching up with Dandy’s past escapades is in order.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Cucumber Castle

Blotto, Twinks and the Ex-King’s Daughter (Blotto, Twinks #1) by Simon Brett (Felony & Mayhem, $14.95, 211 pages)

The treacherous footman Pottinger has been impaled by a dagger in the library!   “Who by?” asked Blotto.   Then remembering that he had been at Eaton, he amended his question to, “By whom?”

The back cover of this book might read, “Camp and spoofy, while altogether enjoyable!”   No serious effort is required to read the rather small volume that author, Simon Brett, hails as “the first Blotto and Twinks mystery.”   The publisher is Felony and Mayhem which is a clue to the tone of their books.

Blotto and his sister Twinks are the son and daughter of the Dowager Duchess of Tawcester (pronounced “taster”).   Being dim-witted and handsome is Blotto’s curse and blessing.   His sister Twinks is both beautiful and brainy which makes her the detective while he is merely there as window dressing.   The period piece is set in England between the first and second world wars.   The Dowager Duchess follows through on the obligation of her landed gentry’s class by entertaining house guests of lesser social standing.   The ex-king of Mitteleuropa and his entourage are beginning to outstay their welcome when the inevitable happens.   A murder victim is found quite by accident by Blotto is his ancestral home.

The mayhem and subsequent murders that occur serve to heighten the potential for puns, class snobbery and altogether good jokes.   Author Brett has been a fixture in British radio and television.   He has also written three detective novels prior to this, and his latest, Blotto, Twinks and the Dead Dowager Duchess (Blotto, Twinks #2).   Brett definitely qualifies for the designation “prolific.”

The volume size and excellent writing make this book ideal for summer reading.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Brett’s latest is a complete wow…  comic in an ebullient yet still sardonic, P. G. Wodehouse way…”   Booklist

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Positively 14th Street

What It Was: A Derek Strange Novel by George Pelecanos (Reagan Arthur/Back Bay Books, $9.99, 272 pages)

I live a block off 14th Street, the setting for much of George Pelecano’s gritty crime novel, What It Was.   Set in 1972, it’s a fascinating read for anyone who likes books set in the Washington “beyond the monuments.”   Watergate is briefly touched on, but this book contains no Senators, no wacky Masonic conspiracy theories and hardly any politics at all.

What It Was concerns the lives of real people, mostly cops and criminals, in a city scarred by riots.   The popular conception of 14th Street is that it was a wasteland, from the disturbances of 1968 to the start of gentrification in the 1980s.   But life went on.   Pimps, drug dealers and hustlers of all kinds moved in.   And for a lot of them, and the cops that pursued them, it was a hell of a time, even a good one.

Red Fury wants to make a name for himself and is going on a crime spree across the city.   He wants to be remembered.   Hunting him is Frank Vaughn, a dinosaur in the evolving era, someone not afraid to bend the rules to get the job done.   Also mixed up in the case is his friend Derek Strange, a cop who has left the force to become a private eye.

Pelecanos has a great eye for the details of the time, from the tricked-out cars to the soul music of the 1970s.   He also resurrects a lot of old DC haunts, legendary bars and restaurants that are long gone in this gentrified city.   His knowledge of the city is encylopedic.   For example, Red hides out in Burrville, a neighborhood I didn’t even know existed.

I wrote my own crime novel about the city, Murder in Ocean Hall.   It’s set in many of the 14th Street neighborhoods of What It Was but during a time of rapid change.

What It Was is a fast, involving read.   Pelecano’s style is muscular, alternating perspectives as it advances towards an inevitably violent conclusion.   Interestingly, the novel is available on the Kindle for only 99 cents.   It’s a limited-time offer designed to generate new readers for this crime novelist.   Forward-thinking publishers are experimenting with new strategies and promotions to adapt to the world of e-readers.

What It Was is also the first book I’ve read on my iPad.   Using the Kindle app, set to sepia, it was a comfortable reading experience – though not as easy on the eyes as using an e-ink reader like the Kindle.   But the 99 cent strategy worked for me.   After dipping into the gritty crime world of What It Was, I’m primed to read the rest of Pelecano’s work.   Well recommended.

Joe Flood

 Joe Flood is the author of two novels, Don’t Mess Up My Block and Murder in Ocean Hall.   He is also a photographer and web content manager.   You can see more of  his writing – and his photographs – at: http://joeflood.com/ .

What It Was is available as a Kindle Edition or Nook Book download for $4.99.

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