BLURB: A delightful Dandy Gilver mystery by Catriona McPherson, set in early 1930s Scotland. For fans of PG Wodehouse, Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie.
On the rain-drenched, wave-lashed, wind-battered Banffshire coast, tiny fishing villages perch on ledges which would make a seagull think twice and crumbly mansions cling to crumblier cliff tops while, out in the bay, the herring drifters brave the storms to catch their silver darlings. It’s nowhere for a child of gentle Northamptonshire to spend Christmas.
But when odd things start to turn up in barrels of fish – with a strong whiff of murder most foul – that’s exactly where Dandy Gilver finds herself. Enlisted to investigate, she and her trusty cohort Alec Osborne are soon swept up in the fisherfolk’s wedding season as well as the mystery. Between age-old traditions and brand-new horrors, Dandy must think the unthinkable to solve her grisliest case yet.
Now this book is available in paperback, I thought it might be timely to revisit my review of the hardback, which I hugely enjoyed, as you will see…
When I was kindly sent this book by Hodder and Stoughton, last summer, I have to confess that initially I thought it probably wasn’t my cup of tea. I assumed it was what is called a “cosy” (although having never read any such books, I’ve no idea how I came to that conclusion!) However, I finally got round to it…and I absolutely adored it! I’ll do my best to explain why, and perhaps I can persuade you into giving Dandy a whirl.
Dandelion “Dandy” Gilver, a well-to-do, married woman in her 40s, with two almost-grown sons, and her friend, Alec Osbourne, who’s a bachelor of 35, investigate crimes, or odd happenings, in an unofficial capacity. There’s no hint of impropriety; it’s just that Dandy is clearly too bright and sparky to be a 1920s society matron, paying visits to neighbours or doing charitable deeds (her husband, Hugh, comes across as rather dull, and a bit of a figure of fun, poor sod!) Hence the duo’s investigations, all of which appear to find them, through word-of-mouth. They’re often called upon when the matter is delicate, and requires discretion, meaning the police can’t be involved. Also brought along for the ride is Dandy’s adored ageing Dalmatian, Bunty.
On this occasion they are called to Aberdeen by a Mr Birchfield, who is a well-to-do merchant of herring, buying barrels from fisherman from the ports of Gardenstown (known as Gamrie) and Macduff, who follow the shoals of herring all over Scotland throughout the year. However, he has had horrific reports – of several barrels of herring he has sold on containing body parts! Thus far he has managed to keep it quiet, and as so many livelihoods would be at risk if this scandal were to become public, Birchfield wants Dandy and Alec to go to Gamrie and investigate. They know the barrels originated in Gamrie, as they are always stamped with the town of origin, and as the boats land a catch there in July, their intention is to try and discover whether anyone disappeared in the area around that time. In order to find all the fisherman from that area at home, they must go there at Christmas, when wedding parties, with age-old traditions take place. Also, Mr Birchfield reveals there is a possibility of one – or even two – barrels containing body parts still being out there…
So Dandy and Alec (and Bunty) head to Gamrie, having booked into The Three Kings lodging house. Their landlady is Euphemia Clatchie (what a fabulous name!), who’s very frugal, which doesn’t result in the most comfortable of lodgings. She is the first of a huge collection of fascinating characters they meet. They present themselves as philologists, documenting the traditions and folklore of different communities. The people of Gamrie are tight knit, interrelated, and many have the same names, to cause even more confusion, although they use “tee names” to differentiate one, say, Margaret Mason from another – one might be known as Meg, the other, Nettie. And being fisher-folk, they have dozens of superstitions, all followed carefully in the hope of keeping everyone, but particularly the fishermen, safe. There are also the bizarre elderly brothers, Durban and Warwick Searle, who are expert taxidermists, and live in a huge dilapidated manor house on the clifftop called Lump House. They create bizarre scenes with taxidermy, such as a Garden of Eden, which Dandy, particularly, finds horrific and repulsive, rather than admirable or a source of entertainment. Dandy and Alec also meet a couple of English artists just along the coast, at Crovie. So Gamrie consists of quite a mix of people, although they all know each other, and almost all their business. You would imagine it would be easy to find whether anyone is missing, and it is. The problem is, they end up with up to seven possible candidates…
I don’t want to give away any more about the mysteries, but I will say that Dandy Gilver And The Reek Of Red Herrings is very funny, and Catriona McPherson is fantastic at creating the most bizarre and intriguing characters, in the strangest places. I’d really love to read more of her adventures to see what jinks Dandy and Alec get up to. As to the central mystery – the missing person (which became the missing people) – it is resolved in a completely satisfactory way, and, although I guessed one, small, part of the mystery, the rest came as a complete and utter surprise. There was also a highly dramatic and exciting ending. So I can only suggest that, if you’re a fan of good, witty, well-researched historical crime fiction, PLEASE do go and investigate the charming Dandy and the dashing Alec in one of their adventures!
5 out of 5
I would like to thank Hodder and Stoughton for sending me this book to review, in exchange for my honest opinion.