The Winter Ground by Catriona McPherson

I’ve got into the horrible habit recently of reading books all out of order and I had intended waiting until I had the first Dandy Gilver book which I have on request at the library, but in the end I started reading this one, just to get a flavour of it, and just kept going.

The setting is Perthshire, Scotland and it’s 1925. Dandelion Dahlia Gilver, to give her her full title, shouldn’t really be all that likeable because she’s a woman who isn’t keen on heathery moors, isn’t really all that enamoured with her two small boys or her husband for that matter and is a bit upper class and English! But somehow she overcomes all of those disadvantages and is a likeable character.

The other disadvantage of this book, for me anyway, is the fact that it’s about strange goings on at the winter camp of a circus. That put me off a bit because things like that always remind me of Scoobie-Doo! Plus, I’ve always disliked circuses, even as a child I didn’t like performing animals, and clowns are the stuff of nightmares. So given all that, I really should have hated the book, but I didn’t.

Dandy writes to her sidekick Alec, asking him to come and help her investigate the circus which is camped out on land which is owned by her new neighbours, Ina and Albert Wilson, the owners of Benachally Castle. Albert Wilson has invited the circus performers so that Ina can be entertained by them. Ina is wrapped in cotton wool by Albert and more or less a prisoner in her own castle. Albert is trying to keep her safe from germs since their child died in the flu epidemic which hit Europe just after World War I.

That all sounds quite heavy but this is an enjoyable, witty and well-written read. As usual, I’m not saying too much about it all, for fear of spoiling it for other potential readers. Dandy has a Dalmatian dog called Bunty, I mention this just because I do like dogs in books, in fact they’re the perfect kind, no hairs and cleaning up required.

The blurb says that Catriona McPherson has a Ph.D in Linguistics and she uses a lot of words which are presumably authentic to the circus fraternity. I hope they are anyway, and weren’t just manufactured by McPherson.

There’s quite a lot of praise for the Dandy Gilver series on the back of the book but I’ll just give you the one from the Guardian:

‘Dan Brown meets Barbara Pym ….Dandy is brisk, baffled, heroic, kindly, scandalised and – above all – very funny.’

I’ve never read anything by Dan Brown, but I have read quite a few Barbara Pym books. This is quite different I would say, but maybe they meant the quality of the writing.