Dandy Gilver & a Spot of Toil and Trouble by Catriona McPherson

 Dandy Gilver & a Spot of Toil and Trouble cover

Dandy Gilver & a Spot of Toil and Trouble by Catriona McPherson is the new mystery featuring Dandy and Alec’s detective agency. Dandy has been contacted by an old schoolfriend who needs her services. Minerva, better known as Minnie lives with her husband in Castle Bewer which is a crumbling 14th century pile. In her letter she explains that they are opening the castle to the public and also staging plays there.

A company of actors from London will be arriving there soon and Dandy and Alec are needed to guard the castle’s valuables apparently. Grant – Dandy’s loyal maid is champing at the bit to join in on this job as she grew up with actor parents, and the stage is a home from home for her.

When they arrive at Castle Bewer they soon realise that the job is far more complicated than Minnie had implied. As ever this was an enjoyable read, I like being in the company of Dandy and Alec. Hugh her husband doesn’t appear in this one much though which is a shame as I think he’s a good character.

Dandy Gilver and A Most Misleading Habit by Catriona McPherson

 Dandy Gilver and A Most Misleading Habit cover

Dandy Gilver and A Most Misleading Habit by Catriona McPherson is the latest in the Dandy Gilver series that I’ve been enjoying over the past few years.

The setting is Scotland, the bleak moors of Lanarkshire, and Dandy is called in to investigate a break out of inmates at a remote mental hospital on Christmas Eve 1932, and a fire that broke out the same night at a nearby convent.

Of course Dandy’s side-kick Alec is helping out as usual although he isn’t able to do much of the investigating in the convent, he concentrates on the mental hospital.

I don’t think this book is as successful as the previous ones, a lot of it just feels so wrong given that it is a convent in the early 1930s. Everyone is just too happy and it is just too unrealistic with the orphanage attached to the convent being full of well-loved children, unlikely even within a sort of freelance convent as it is. There were so many mentions of ‘sister’ in it, it was even mentioned by Alec in the book that he was tired of the word, or something to that effect. I suppose I’m just not that fond of a convent setting.

There wasn’t much in the way of banter between Dandy and her maid Grant, or even between Dandy and Alec although her husband Hugh played a larger part in this story and he’s a good character I think so that was welcome.

I will definitely read the next one in the series though.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

Dandy Gilver and The Unpleasantness in the Ballroom by Catriona McPherson

The Unpleasantness in the Ballroom is the latest Dandy Gilver investigation from Catriona McPherson. This one is set in Glasgow in 1932 and the whole city is dance crazy. There is a big dancing competition coming up and none other than Victor Sylvester will be officiating.

The Locarno Ballroom in Sauchiehall Street is the venue and Theresa, better known as Tweetie is one of the contestants. She’s the very spoiled and self-centred daughter of a wealthy businessman and her dancing partner is a young man who works for Tweetie’s fiance. The other contestants are very much more down to earth, typical Glaswegians.

When Tweetie starts to get various threats, such as being sent a dead stuffed bird – her parents are understandably worried and call in Dandy and her side-kick Alec to try to track down the perpetrator, and keep an eye on Tweetie.

This was a good mystery with a particularly enjoyable setting for me as I knew everywhere mentioned, and in fact the street that I was born in is even given a mention. The various different types of tenement flats are described in detail which will be of interest to people who haven’t frequented any.

I was a bit disappointed that gangsters featured in this book – thinking that yet again Glasgow is being portrayed as a wildly violent place, but in a note at the end McPherson does say that gangsters had been a problem in the city up until the early 1930s, after which the police seem to have got to grips with the problem.

If you want to have a wee keek at what The Locarno actually looked like, click here.

This book counts towards the Read Scotland 2015 challenge.

Bury Her Deep by Catriona McPherson

Bury Her Deep by Catriona McPherson was published in 2007 and it’s a Dandy Gilver mystery. I thought I had read all of the books in this series so I was really chuffed to see this one on the library shelf, this is the third one in the series and it’s set in 1924.

Dandy is married to Hugh Gilver who is a well-off landowner, they live in rural Perthshire with their two sons but Dandy is obviously in need of outside stimulation or she’ll die of boredom amongst the sheep.

In fact she thought she was going to be bored stiff at the luncheon which Hugh had invited his old schoolfriend to but it turns out that the now Reverend Mr Tait has been having some problems in his parish and he asks Dandy to come and investigate.

The scene changes to Fife and the wee village of Luckenlaw where the newly set up branch of the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute (the equivalent of the Women’s Institute in England) is being seen as a bad influence on their womenfolk – as far as their husbands are concerned. It doesn’t help matters that they always meet on the night of a full moon, there’s a lot of gossip going on in the village which has suffered a lot of bad luck in recent times. Dandy is determined to get to the bottom of it, with the help of her trusty side-kick Alec of course.

I enjoyed this one although probably not as much as her later books, but the setting was all local to me and I do enjoy being able to imagine all the roads and places in a book, although the actual village of Luckenlaw is fictional, the rest of the locations are all real. I know that some people aren’t all that keen on Dandy as a character but I’m a fan, to me she’s a realistic long-married woman, coping with an uncommunicative husband as best she can. Hugh is still clueless about his wife’s career as a private investigator as Dandy knows that if he finds out about it he will put a stop to it.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2015 Challenge.

Dandy Gilver & a Deadly Measure of Brimstone by Catriona McPherson

It’s 1929 and Dandy’s whole family has been ill with flu, bronchitis, pneumonia and even pleurisy.* She decides to take them all off to the Scottish Border town of Moffat, hoping the Laidlaw Hydropathic Hotel in the town will speed their recovery. Of course there has to be another reason for Dandy to be there – she has had a request from a family to look into the death of their mother/wife. She died at the Laidlaw Hydro and although they’ve been told it was natural causes, they suspect foul play.

Whilst the Gilver family has taken a rented villa in Moffat the menfolks are spending most of their time at the Hydro and seem to be finding it all to their taste, much to their surprise.

The brother and sister who own the Hydro have recently inherited the business from their father and it’s obvious that they have very different ideas on how the place should be run.

It’s another good investigation from Dandy and her sidekick Alec. This was a very satisfying read with Dandy’s husband playing a much bigger part than usual and their relationship proving to be much closer than either of them usually admit.

I suspect this was written in because some reviewers had been put off the series because they claimed that Dandy treated her husband badly. Ahh those critics must have been tender souls – unused to the realities of husbands and marriage in general!

*Wording thanks to the Great Northern Welly Boot Show and Billy Connolly. Obviously Dandy’s family hadn’t got their wellies!

The song is an adaptation of an old folk tune, “The Work of the Weavers.”

Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains by Catriona McPherson

Dandy Gilver just gets better and better. In this book she has to take a crash course in the mysteries of being a lady’s maid from Grant, her own lady’s maid, so that she can take up the position in an Edinburgh household.

Walburga Balfour, the lady of the house has written to Dandy asking for her help as she is sure that her husband is trying to kill her. Working under the name of Miss Rossiter, Dandy is accepted by the rest of the house staff, all twelve of them. It isn’t long before things take an unexpected turn and Dandy’s sleuthing begins in earnest, helped by her trusty Alec of course.

The story takes place during the nine days of the General Strike in 1926 and Catriona McPherson has obviously done her research, so as well as an entertaining mystery I learned a lot about what was going on in Edinburgh and the surrounding district at that time. A great read.

Dandy Gilver & a Bothersome Number of Corpses by Catriona McPherson

Most of this book is set in a girls school in the village of Portpatrick in Galloway in the south west border country of Scotland, not a place which I know well, the combination of the two settings meant that I didn’t enjoy this one as much as her other Dandy Gilver books.

Dandy is called by two of the Lipscott sisters whom she has known since she was a young thing, they need her help. The Lipscotts are an eccentric family and Dandy still fondly remembers the time she spent with them in the past.

When she hears that the youngest sister is working as a schoolteacher at a school which has a habit of ‘losing’ teachers, Dandy has to investigate.

I think that Catriona McPherson was smart to make Dandy an Englishwoman, married to a Scotsman and living mainly in Scotland as it gives her ample scope to comment on Scottish culture and traditions, but not in a snide way.

For instance: “I know that the leftover soup from a Scotswoman’s kitchen is not for the fainthearted, given its starting point of rib-sticking heft and the nature of the inevitable barley which works away long after the cooking is done, so that sometimes second- or (I have heard tell of it) third-day soup, can just as easily be eaten with a fork as with a spoon.”

That made me laugh as I always have a pot of home made soup on the go and Jack has been known to say ‘cut me a slice of soup please.’

Dandy Gilver & an Unsuitable Day for a Murder by Catriona McPherson

Dandy Gilver & an Unsuitable Day for a Murder cover

I enjoyed this one a lot although it might appeal to me more than to most people purely because of the setting, which is Dunfermline in Fife, a town which I know well.

The setting is 1927 and Dandy Gilver has been called to Dunfermline to search for a young woman who has disappeared. Mirren is the only child of a family who own a department store in Dunfermline. The Aitkens have been in business in the town for 50 years and when Dandy gets there they are busy celebrating their golden anniversary, the town is throbbing with the excitement of the day but it isn’t long before things take a nasty turn and Dandy has a lot of unravelling to do, amongst the three generations of the Aitken family.

Add the Hepburns, the owners of the rival department store in Dunfermline into the mix, and it all leads to a maze of twists and turns which at times I had a wee bit of trouble with, mainly because of all the various family members involved.

‘They’ do say that there are only seven plotlines in fiction and at first this one would seem to be the Romeo and Juliet story, but Sir Walter Scott’s phrase ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive’ from his poem Marmion – best sums up the goings on in this book I think.

The Burry Man’s Day by Catriona McPherson

This is the second book in the Dandy Gilver series and so far I think it’s my favourite, I don’t know how much I’ve been influenced by knowing the setting fairly well, it’s always a plus as far as I’m concerned when I can easily imagine exactly where I am location-wise in a book. Apart from that I do like Catriona McPherson’s writing, she’s particularly good with different dialects which can be really difficult to get right.

It’s August 1923 and the setting is in and around South Queensferry. The small town has an annual Ferry Fair and the Burry Man plays a big part in it. He’s a bit of a hangover from pagan days I suppose but it’s all a bit of a mystery, you can read about the 2012 Burryman here. And here is a photo of him with his two helpers. This all takes place on the second Friday of August, I’ve marked it down on my calendar – see you at South Queensferry – and on the Saturday too.
Burry man in South Queensferry

If you want to see what South Queensferry looks like have a look at a previous post here.

Back to the book. Not everyone in Queensferry is enamoured of the Burry Man, the various religious ministers/priest aren’t keen on him and the Turnbulls – who are the local temperance, all alcohol is evil, tee-total fanatics are dead against him, because part of the Burry Man’s duties is to go around the town being treated to whisky from everyone.

Robert Dudgeon has been the Burry Man for 25 years but for some reason he doesn’t want to play the part again, although he won’t say why. At the last minute he changes his mind but the day ends in trgedy as the Burry Man drops down dead. Is it natural causes or has he been poisoned?

When all this occurs, Dandy happens to be staying at Cassilis Castle which is actually a fictional place, supposedly somewhere over Dalmeny way, and is owned by her old schoolfriend Buttercup and her American husband Cadwallader. Cad asks Dandy to investigate, which of course she does, with the help of Alec.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable murder mystery which had me puzzled to the end, a good comfort read. It occurred to me that McPherson deals with Dandy’s husband and family in exactly the same way that children’s authors always have done with parents – that is, she gets rid of them very early on in the story. Just thought I’d mention it. I’m looking forward to reading more of this series.

After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson

This is the first Dandy Gilver mystery and it was published in 2005. I had previously read the fourth in the series, The Winter Ground, which I liked enough to want to start the series from the beginning.

I enjoyed After the Armistice Ball even more than I thought I would, for one thing it was nice to discover how the upper-class Dandy and her sidekick Alec got together as a couple of amateur sleuths. Alec is also well-heeled but hails from Dorset, he is due to get married to Cara Duffy who comes from Edinburgh and Perthshire. The Duffy family diamonds have apparently gone missing, thought to have been stolen from Croys, a large house near Kingussie which belongs to the Esslemonts. It’s now 1922 and since the end of the Great War there has been an annual Armistice Ball at Croys and Lena Duffy is going around telling everyone that the diamonds must have been replaced by paste during her visit to Croys.

Daisy Esslemont asks her friend Dandy Gilver to investigate the whole thing, which involves blackmail and subsequently murder, or was it suicide? On the whole I found this book to be really entertaining, it might have been improved with a bit less travelling backward and forward to Galloway, but it has a good feel of the period and I found Dandy and Alec to be likeable and realistic characters. Dandy has a nice line in sarcastic wit.