Tag Archives: Scotland

A Deadly Game

A Deadly Measure of Brimstone

A Deadly Measure of Brimstone: A Dandy Gilver Mystery by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur, $26.99, 304 pages)

A Scottish health spa is just the destination for Dandy Gilver’s husband and two sons, all of whom have been suffering from one illness or another. Never mind that Dandy has an ulterior motive for bustling her family off to the coastal retreat.

Dandy and her partner Alec Osborne are on a sleuthing case and they shamelessly use the outing to cover up their assignment. A guest at the spa has died and the bereaved family needs to know the truth of her demise; accident or murder?

The time is post World War I and the Gilver family is rather well off. Dandy’s husband, Hugh, is reasonably tolerant of his wife’s need to pursue her detective career although sometimes his patience is stretched to its limits.

The spa, Laidlaw’s Hyrdropathic Establishment, is quite the place for encountering all manner of folks. There are the usual staid and and proper ladies and gents taking in the cures along with a rather odd mix of spiritualists, a partying crowd and the family that runs the spa.

Dandy, her family and Alec encounter more than a few bizarre happenings before the mystery death is solved.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The author, Catriona McPherson, lives in Davis, California.

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If You’re Feeling Sinister

Dandy Gilver bothersome

Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses: A Mystery by Catronia McPherson (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 304 pages)

‘Alec?’ I said, sitting down in the chair at the desk. It was an oak and leather affair, one leg and four little castored feet, and it was set very low to the floor for Miss Shank’s short stature. I twirled it around and around a few times to make myself comfortable and by the time I had undone the ensuing tangle with the telephone cord, Alec had roused himself and was talking.

The narrator is Dandy Gilver, a fortyish lady detective who lives on a “farm” in Scotland, is happily married and has two sons. Dandy and her partner Alec Osborne are hot on the trail of an English teacher at St. Columba’s School for Girls who has gone incommunicado. The instructor, Fleur Lipscott, happens to be a girlhood friend of Dandy’s. Fleur’s sisters are frantically looking for her, as they have not been in contact for too long a time. This disappearance is not a first. Some deep dark family secrets are being withheld from the detectives making their job difficult.

Dandy Gilver bothersome 2

The era is post-World War I and the school is located in Portpatrick, Scotland. The author, Catronia McPherson, assures her reader that Portpatrick is indeed a real place as are the other cities and towns in this charming and well-paced mystery. The school is fictional; as well it should be given the remarkable activities and events that take place there.

While seeking assurances that Fleur is well, Dandy and Alec are drawn into the workings of St. Columba’s. Their first bothersome corpse has washed up on shore and the local police aren’t able to identify her. The fishes have made quick work of her face and fingers.

What begins as a picturesque period piece, morphs into a murder mystery that might well take place today. The language, clothing, prejudices and references to the great war keep it grounded in the past but the use of telephones makes it modern.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Agatha Christie lives!” John Lescroart

You can read a review of Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder: A Mystery here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/hammer-to-fall/

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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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Row, Row, Row Your Boat

No Mark Upon Her: A Novel by Deborah Crombie (William Morrow, $25.99, 384 pages)

I know you remember.   But I will make you forget…

Anglophiles, mystery lovers and rowing fans – this is a book for you!   Author Deborah Crombie has added a fourteenth book to her impressive list of mysteries with the February 2012 release of No Mark Upon Her.   The tale focuses on the intersection of two activities, work at Scotland Yard and rowing on the River Thames.   The first victim is Rebecca Meredith who was a high-ranking member of the force and an Olympic class rower on the comeback trail.   The discovery of her body along the banks of the river jump-starts the search for her killer.

Although Crombie is a native of Texas, she flaunts knowledge of Great Britain that she acquired while living in England and Scotland.   The narrative is filled with British phrases that were not familiar to this reviewer.   A Kindle or Nook e-book version would provide easy access to definitions.   Regardless, the language is not so far-fetched that a reader would lose the meaning of what’s being said.   The locations for the action are nearly cinema graphic which gives the reader the sense of having visited the locale without the burden of jet lag.

The good guy characters are warm and knowable and the bad guys are thoroughly despicable.   Figuring out which group each of the characters falls into is a bit of a challenge.   While married members of the Scotland Yard force, Gemma and Duncan Kincaid, are clearly in the good guys group, their fellow officers are not so strongly portrayed.   Interestingly, Crombie has set up pairs of characters, both couples and work partners which make for an engaging read.   Some folks are just working, others are falling in love and a few are plotting the removal of obstacles in their evil path of greed.

There are crimes galore, rape, murder, arson and theft.   One of these crimes seems to lead to another, almost logically!

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   In Great Britian/Europe, this book has been released with the title No Mark Upon Her: A Kincaid and James Mystery.

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Beauty’s Only Skin Deep

One Day: A Novel by David Nicholls  (Vintage, $14.95, 448 pages; Random House Audio, $19.99, 13 compact discs)

If ever there was a clear-cut category for One Day, “dramedy” is where it belongs.   By now it’s likely that the book, audio book and movie have been enjoyed by countless tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people.   The story thread is not really new.   A similar example this reviewer recalls is Same Time Next Year.   In the play and movie of the same name, a couple’s thrown together by chance, has a romantic encounter and agrees to meet on the same weekend each year.   They do so for 24 years.

One Day revisits the main characters, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew each year on the 15th of July, St. Swithin’s Day, for 20 years following their graduation from Edinburgh University in Scotland.   Emma and Dexter spend graduation night together at the beginning of this saga.   Dexter is a beautiful young man from a well-to-do family who enjoys being admired and bedded by many women.   Emma, on the other hand, comes from a lower-class background and is significantly brighter academically than Dexter.   However, her life experience and confidence are seriously lacking which does not bode well for her success in life.

Post-graduation finds them in London.   Dexter exudes confidence and is highly photogenic which lands him a job as a TV show host while Emma toils away at menial jobs including as a waitress and eventually the manager of a Tex-Mex restaurant.   Their annual check-ins prove to be both funny and poignant.

The years roll by and it is clear that both Emma and Dexter are good friends, although Emma is clearly more devoted to Dexter than he to her.   Let’s face it, Dexter is devoted to Dexter.   On St. Swithin’s Day their lives don’t always intersect, although Nicholls provides the reader with ample evidence of how each is managing life.

This novel has been reviewed twice previously on this site.   The prior reviews were written based on the hard copy.   This review is based on the unabridged audio book.   The word “unabridged” is key here because, unlike the book, the movie version is highly abridged and offers little more than snapshots of some of the July 15th episodes.   This reviewer is grateful to have heard the audio version prior to viewing the movie because the film was no more than a shallow glimpse into the characters’ actions.   Sadly, the serious and deeply moving aspects of the book were lost in the movie version.

Author Nicholls is a genius at dialogue and fortunately for this reviewer, the audio version was captivating.   Anna Bentinck lends her talents to the character voices and manages to do a good job on both the men and women’s parts.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

The audio book was purchased by the reviewer’s husband.

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This Diamond Ring

Death of a Chimney Sweep, A Hamish Macbeth Mystery by M.C. Beaton (Grand Central Publishing, $24.99, 256 pages)

Surprise!   A wicked sense of humor runs throughout this 26th mystery novel written by M.C. Beaton.   There are plenty of red herrings and portents of things to come as the plot wends its way through the Scottish moors and into the big city of Glasgow.   Country Police Constable Hamish Macbeth lumbers along at his own pace trying to solve the murders of a retired military officer who was out for a walk on the moors and a local fellow, the sweep who was cleaning the chimney at the officer’s home.

The trail to the solution is littered with corpses, most of which belonged to people who deserved what happened to them.   No spoiler alert is needed here as Beaton’s book titles are indicative of mayhem and murder.   This meandering plot is, in the end, tied up neater than an Elfa storage solution from The Container Store.   The pieces interlock and hold together well.

The military man left behind a timid mouse of a wife.   Milly, his widow, appears to be quite shy and yet she manages to win the hearts and engagement rings of a couple of fellows not long after her husband’s demise.   Her husband, Captain Henry Davenport, had engaged in a bit of fraud that brought in scads of money from unwitting investors eager to make a killing.   The search for the whereabouts of the money fuels the killing spree.

Constable Macbeth is a clever redhead who cherishes his freedom and the quiet solitude of a secret fishing spot.   He has little time for fishing as he, a past fiance, a former girlfriend and his pets spend much time and energy trying to cut short the killing spree that results from Davenport’s fraud.   Beaton goes in for a bit of exotica as Macbeth’s cat is no ordinary kitty.   No sir!   Sonsie is a wildcat!

If you’re not familiar with this author, as is the case with this reviewer, be comforted in the knowledge that there’s more – lots more – where this came from.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Death of a Chimney Sweep: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery by M. C. Beaton.

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