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.

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart

Touch not the Cat cover

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart was published in 1976 and it must have been around about then that I first read it. I couldn’t remember an awful lot about the book (it was a long time ago after all) but I did remember that the family crest had something to do with the storyline. Judith @ Reader in the Wilderness and I decided to read this one at the same time and she plans to get her post up about it soon.

This is a light read, you might call it a comfort read, perfect holiday or summertime reading. The setting is mainly Herefordshire in England in the 1970s although the book does begin in Madeira where Bryony Ashley is working at a hotel that is owned by her father’s friend, it’s just a holiday job for her but tragedy strikes when Bryony’s father is knocked down and killed by a hit and run car in Germany. Her father wasn’t killed outright and his last words have been written down for Bryony, as the doctors know that she won’t get to his bedside before he dies. There is a tradition of a sort of telepathy within the Ashley family and Bryony has it as has one of her male relatives, but she doesn’t know which one it is that communicates with her through thought.

Bryony is now an orphan and even worse than that her family home Ashley Court is entailed meaning that it has to be passed on down the male line in the family. Ashley Court is practically a ruin, an ancient moated house which has suffered from a lack of maintenance for years. It’ll be a millstone around the neck of the eldest Ashley cousin Emory, even more than Bryony realises because she discovers that that branch of the family is equally skint when she and her father had believed them to be very well off.

The police have never been able to track down whoever killed Bryony’s father and she begins to think that it wasn’t a simple accident. Did her cousins have something to do with it? Which of her cousins is it that she has a mental link with, being able to communicate through telepathy.

Bryony is suspicious of her cousins, would they have killed her father to get their hands on Ashley Court and the land around it?

With romance thrown in and some lovely descriptions of the surroundings, something always expected in a Mary Stewart book, this was an enjoyable read. Mind you I always compare any of her books with her Merlin/Arthurian trilogy, that ended up being a series of five books. Those books are still my favourites.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge, I’ve now read thirteen Scottish books so far this year.

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.

The Broken Vase by Rex Stout

I think I’ve only read three books by Rex Stout before I bought The Broken Vase, and I just assumed that it was going to be a Nero Wolfe book, but it isn’t. Rex Stout books are not thick on the ground in Scotland, or England for that matter but I came across this one in a junk/bric a brac shop just over the border in England. They only had about 20 books so it was a stroke of luck they had this one, an old Crime Club hardback from 1947. My only gripe is that there’s a paucity of likeable characters but there is humour, which is always a plus.

The detective is Tecumseh Fox (is that a native American name? – for update see last paragraph) and Stout wrote only three books with Tec Fox as the detective, presumably he wasn’t as happy with him as a character. The Broken Vase was first published in 1942.

Jan Tusar is a young and successful classical violinist and Tecumseh Fox is one of five people who have contributed to a fund to purchase a Stradivarius for him. Tec is amongst the audience to hear Jan playing the violin for the first time in public, but the concert is a disaster, the violin sounds terrible and the audience is baffled, the evening ends in tragedy.

I enjoyed this vintage mystery, maybe not as much as a Nero /Archie book but still well worth reading.

Jack has just told me Tecumseh was US Civil War General Sherman’s middle name – after the Shawnee chief who fought against the US with the British in 1812 – and he pointed me in this direction. It’s great having your own encyclopaedia at home.

Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer

Because we were away in the Lake District it took me much longer than usual to read this book. I usually like to read detective fiction in 3 or 4 big chunks over a couple of days, but this must have taken me about a week in dribs and drabs. Because of that I only gave it 3 on Goodreads but I suspect it would have been a 4 if I had been able to read it as normal.

First published in 1951 and set in London, two similar murders are committed in the same house just two days apart, as you would expect given the book title. The house belongs to Mrs Haddington, a ghastly social climbing sort of a woman with a spoiled little madam of a teenage daughter, named Cynthia.

There are several possibilities as to the culprit or culprits and Chief Inspector Hemingway and Inspector Grant have the job of investigating the crime. Grant is of course Scottish and as he has just come back from a holiday in Inverness his speech is more Scottish than it would be normally, in fact he speaks quite a lot of Gaelic phrases, thus proving that Heyer went to the trouble of learning more Gaelic than I have. But then I’m a Lowlander and I know nothing much beyond sgian dubh.

Anyway, it kept me guessing to the end which is always a plus and there is the usual witty dialogue which Heyer is so good at writing, especially between the love interest which she always has to have, even in her murder mysteries.

Watson’s Choice by Gladys Mitchell

This is the first book by Gladys Mitchell which I have read, it was first published in 1955 and my copy is an old green Penguin from 1957. Mrs Bradley features in this book and she seems to be Mitchell’s lady detective and has featured in lots of her books. She’s another knitting lady detective.

Mrs Bradley and her secretary Laura Menzies have been invited to a party at the country home of Sir Bohun Chantry, a wealthy eccentric who has a penchant for Sherlock Holmes. All of the guests have to attend in fancy dress, got up as characters from Sherlock Holmes stories.

The first chapter has a lot of info dumping in it but it’s done well as at the end of it the reader has been introduced to all of the main characters, before they actually appear in the story.

I ended up enjoying this book more than I thought I was going to, I’m really not a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, despite the fact that I live near Edinburgh. Conan Doyle’s beloved Holmes annoys me too much, he would have been insufferable to live with. As the storyline involves a treasure hunt of things which appear in Holmes stories that was all completely lost on me, but I’m sure it would go down well with Holmes afficianados.

Sir Bohun’s relatives are upset that he seems to be intent on marrying Linda Campbell, a governess. His illegitimate Spanish son, Manoel is particularly worried about it. He wants to inherit from his father and be legitimised. When a murder occurs it’s Laura’s fiance Gavin, who is in the C.I.D. who investigates.

I’ve read that this book isn’t one of her best, I think it was the second last book which she wrote, but plot wise it isn’t a disappointment as there were unexpected twists, for me anyway. It does feature a large dog, described as looking like a cross between a Great Dane and an Irish Wolfhound, with maybe a bit of donkey in there too – a big soft lump, which was of course playing the part of the Hound of the Baskervilles.

I will be looking out for more books by Gladys Mitchell in the future. I found this one in a charity shop just after Joan had mentioned that she was reading it – on the other side of the pond. I’ve never found a vintage Penguin in my home town before, people must hang on to them. It seemed like an amazing coincidence to me, one of those spooky parallel universe things!

Another thing which I must mention is that red-hair features in this book, the sort of stereo typical disparaging remarks which you get used to if like me you have red hair. They are daft though and do perpetuate silly prejudices which even nowadays end up contributing to kids with red hair getting bullied at school. Looking at the photo of Gladys Mitchell on the back of the book, it looks to me as if the author might have had red hair herself – she was certainly very fair, it’s a black and white photo. Maybe she was just claiming the territory as some people do if they have a perceived ‘handicap’. Does anybody have any info on that subject. Is red-hair a feature of her books?

Although Gladys Mitchell was born in Cowley, Oxford she is of Scottish descent and a Scottish influence is apparent in some of her books, according to the blurb on the back.

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage by M.C. Beaton

I borrowed this book from the library and it’s the first Agatha Raisin book I’ve read, I’ve wanted to start at the beginning of the series since Jo at The Book Jotter has been enjoying reading the books. Unfortunately this one is fifth in the series but I decided to read it anyway. These books are set in the Cotswolds, and as there are quite a few mentions of towns which we visited during our recent road trip, it did add to the reading experience, it’s nice to be able to picture the actual locations.

I enjoyed this one, I think you could call it a good book for a bad day. There’s nothing at all intellectualy stimulating about it which makes it perfect for taking your mind off things or reading on a journey or hanging about in a queue, good holiday reading too. It only took a couple of hours to get through.

Agatha Raisin is getting married to James Lacey, her next door neighbour, and she is keeping her fingers crossed that her previous husband is dead, otherwise she’ll be committing bigamy. As you can imagine – things don’t go well and murder and mayhem ensue. It’s a bit daft really, what I call ‘marshmallow reading’ but sometimes that’s just what you need.

I had heard a bit of the first book in this series on BBC Radio 4 Extra one night when I was doing the dishes. From what I heard then, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death seemed to have had more humour in it. I think that the books might turn out to be a bit samey but I’ll definitely read a few more of them, I can’t see myself ploughing therough all M.C. Beaton’s output though, they’re churned out at quite a rate.

One thing did strike me as funny, which wasn’t supposed to be amusing. M.C. Beaton was a wee bit economical with the commas early on in the book, page 7 to be exact, where this is written:

Such men as James Lacey were for other women, county women with solid county backgrounds, women in tweeds with dogs who could turn out cakes and jam for church fetes with one hand tied behind their backs.

I had to read it again as it didn’t make sense – who’s doing the baking – the women or the dogs? Surely if dogs they should have a paw tied behind their back!

Then I realised it was just the lack of a comma or two which caused the confusion. Sad really because I did have a vision of a dog doing the baking and jam making, and do admit, it would have been funnier!

Anyway I want a dog like that, especially for baking the things that I’d still be marked F for Fail on, like scones and bread, but I’m thinking it would have to be a poodle because they don’t cast hairs!

Going It Alone by Michael Innes

Michael Innes was a Scottish author who also wrote under the name of J.I.M. Stewart, which was his real name but as Going It Alone is a mystery it’s a Michael Innes book. It’s ages since I read any of the Stewart books and I hope to rectify that soon but from memory this book seemed more like those ones than his usual Innes books.

Maybe it was just because the storyline involves a family and there is no detective involved, just an uncle who helps his nephew when he gets mixed up with unsavoury characters which results in attempted murder, blackmail, kidnapping and robbery.

The uncle, Gilbert Averell, isn’t exactly completely innocent himself as he’s living in France as a tax exile from England and has entered Britain using a friend’s passport to avoid having to stump up more cash to the treasury.

It was first published in 1980 and is an enjoyable bit of light reading. Michael Innes had an incredibly long career as an author, over 50 years, and he usually manages to squeeze a bit of humour into his books too.

Stormy Petrel by Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart is another of those authors whom I’m trying to read my way through and ticking them off my list as I go. This book was first published in 1991 but my copy is a Hodder and Stoughton which was published this year.

Rose Fenemore is an English tutor at Cambridge but she’s also a secret but popular writer of science fiction. She’s got a bit of writer’s block so when she spots an advert in The Times- ‘Ivory tower for long or short let. Isolated cottage on small Hebridean island off the coast of Mull. Ideal for writer or artist in search of peace.’ – she decides to write off to the box number in the hope of renting it for a holiday. I know, I know – it’s very similar to Elizabeth von Arnim’s An Enchanted April but on the other hand it is something which lots of us do from time to time. Well we do anyway.

Rose’s brother decides to join her in the cottage as he’s a keen photographer and he wants to photograph the wildlife on the island, particularly the elusive stormy petrel, a small sea-bird. Things don’t go exactly to plan and Rose realises that she can’t find peace to write even on the tiny island of Moila, off the Isle of Mull.

This was a quick read and it’s perfect if you’re looking for some light holiday reading and you particularly enjoy books with a Scottish setting. Or even if you just want something to take you away from all the horrible news which we’re getting on a daily basis, from all corners of the world.

I always look to see who a book has been dedicated to because it can be really interestng. Mary Stewart dedicated this one to Culcicoides Pulicaris Argyllensis with respect.

She obviously has a sense of humour as that is the Latin name for the teeny wee midge which plagues the west coast of Scotland and eats people alive! Luckily they very rarely bother me!

The Sacred Art of Stealing by Christopher Brookmyre

This is another book which I read during the Christmas holidays and I’ve been swithering about reviewing it ever since.

It’s definitely not one for the prudish as it is a wee bit over the top in a couple of places. Having said that, I did enjoy reading it. It starts off in Mexico but the action soon switches to the lovely city of Glasgow, which is always nice especially if you are homesick for the streets. I enjoyed being in Buchanan Street and Gordon Street and the Kelvingrove Gallery anyway.

Angelique de Xavia has grown up in Glasgow and gone to a Roman Catholic school where she had rather a hard time of it due to the fact that her skin colour didn’t fit in as her parents had been amongst the Ugandan Asians deported by Idi Amin in the 1970s. She becomes a Rangers supporter mainly because all of the hateful pupils are Celtic supporters but being a Rangers fan is the big secret in her life. The rivalry between the two teams is really well observed and funny.

When she joins the police she becomes an expert in judo and has a reputation for being a bit of a maverick so when there is a robbery at a bank and hostages are taken, Angelique abseils into the building. It’s a robbery with a difference and Angelique ends up finding one of the robbers more than a bit interesting, which is where it became a bit unlikely.

There are loads of twists and turns in the plot and I think that anyone who is into suspense/mystery novels would probably enjoy it. Even if they don’t have the added dimension of imagining themselves at the Mitchell Library or in Partick.

One thing did annoy me though and that was the spelling of Glesca Polis. Apparently Brookmyre was born in Glasgow, as I was, but I have never heard any Glaswegian pronounce Glasgow in that way. It is always Glesga. Only teuchters (highlanders) pronounce it with a ‘c’.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thriller and Suspense Challenge.