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Having enjoyed "Murder on the flying Scotsman" by the same author (see review) I decided to get some further books in the Daisy Dalrymple series out of my local library. Unfortunately they don't have books 1-3 in the series or number 5 so I went from book 4 to book 6 in the series "Dead in the Water"
About the author
Born in England in 1946 and lived and study in England. She attended Manchester University and studied Russian and French. She then traveled and meet her husband before settling in the USA. Her first novel a historical romance was published in 1979 however she then switched to crime novels and the Daisy Dalrymple series. That said she still writes some regency romance novels.
About the Series
The Daisy Dalrymple series is set in Britain the 1920's after the First World War. This provides a great backdrop for a series as some of the male characters within the series come home altered by the war. There was also the great influenza epidemic that killed thousands which impacts upon several of the characters and their lives. Daisy is an "Honorable" which for those of you who don't know Burke's Peerage (myself included) is a daughter of a viscount.
Daisy herself has been affected by the war and lost her father, brother and fiancé. Following this she talks herself into a magazine job. The Magazine is American and to me seems to be a cross between Tatler, and Country life.
Lest you think this series is all gloom and doom, remember this was "The roaring '20s", with newly emancipated women, flappers and full of "bright young things"
In the first book, Daisy meets Alec Fletcher he is the love interest for Daisy through the series but don't expect much by way of steamy sex scenes this book is written very much in the Agatha Christie style not a Jackie Collins. Alec is the epitome of the England post war in that he is middle class, college educated, a former officer and pilot. Following the war he became a Police man and now holds the title of a Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard. He's a widower with a young daughter Belinda and a mother who lives with them. The one thing that Alec's and Daisy's family have in common is the disapproval of their relationship, the snobbery of both the middle and upper classes is rife and both believe the two classes don't mix.
The social changes in England post war make a fabulous and exhilarating background for murder
About the book
This is the sixth book in the series and is set in 1923. Daisy has been invited to stay with her cousin at Henley-on-the-Thames as she covers the Henley Regatta for the American magazine. Her cousin and aunt are also putting up 8 young men whom are representing Ambrose College Oxford in two of the races in the regatta. Her cousin Tish has also invited a friend of hers from University Dottie to stay. As the house is full to the brim tensions mount amongst some of the guests. Daisy immediately steps into the middle of a Class war among two of the Ambrose men Basil DeLancey (a younger son of an Earl) and the coxswain of the team Horace Bott (a shop keeper's son). Basil DeLancey is a thoroughly nasty piece of work and as they said in those times a Cad. He provokes Bott at every opportunity and after one particularly humiliating experience for Bott he threatens revenge on DeLancey. Daisy's fiancé Alec Fletcher is also invited to stay at the house during the Regatta and to meet some of Daisy's relatives for the first time. This is one of his few weekends off from Scotland Yard and one of the few times he doesn't have his daughter Belinda with him. So bar Daisy's work in observing the Regatta they are hoping for a romantic weekend together. Unfortunately they are soon thrust into investigating a murder again.
This is a wonderfully written murder mystery in style of Agatha Christie. By this I mean there is a gentle read not gritty murder mysteries in the style of Patricia Cornwell say.
The style of writing is very much in keeping with the 1920's despite having been written in 1998. The language used to describe events and the speech of the characters certainly seems in keeping with the 1920's all of which for me make the novel seem more rounded and amusing to me. DeLancey for example is referred to as a "blighter" and Daisy for having a job whilst part of the Aristocracy is called a "working girl" not terms I am sure that would be today in the same way!
One of the things I love about this book and the two novels I have read so far in the series is the descriptions of the everyday things in Daisy's life such as the clothes and style of the 20's. For example when describing Tish "Slim in pale blue pique, a dark blue sash at the low waist, her figure was admirably suited to the bustles, hipless fashion of the day, Daisy noted enviously." A pleasant description and because of Daisy's sentiments it warms me to Daisy even more. The way the author talks about the manners and expectations people had of staying in a country house for the weekend also are amusing. A good example of this is how the rowers are with the delights of all the breakfast food on the warming plates on the sideboard. They tuck in with full force of appetite and ravish it all.
The flow of this novel is pitched perfectly for me in that we get to know some background to the events of the murder before it occurs. This also allows you as a reader to get to know the various characters and build a rapport with them or to dislike them in the case of Bott and DeLancey. When the murder happens though you are not perhaps surprised by whom is killed but the manner in which it is done is a bit of a surprise. The investigation into the murder is the largest part of the book and Dunn writes wonderful prose with various twists and turns and red herrings that Daisy and Alec follow till they eventually find the culprit to the murder.
The characterization is magnificent especially for me the development of Daisy and Alec relationship from the earlier book "Murder on the flying Scotsman" to this book seem to be beautiful timed. The deepening of their feelings for one another and the little flashes of jealously that Alec has are delightfully played out for the reader over the course of the book. The staple characters of Sergeant Tring and Constable Piper continue to provide a great foil for both one another and Alec. They inject some humor to the book especially Tring with his immeasurable belief in Daisy and her often bizarre theories.
The issue of class and how following the First World War that the whole class system was shaken up and is sensitively written. The prejudices that prevailed at the time amongst the upper classes that the any one below then was not only a "lower order" but inferior in some way is written with a witty and sharp edge. The fact that not every Aristocrat within the book has this view or subscribed too it makes the inadequacies amongst the characters that do more stark. The working and middle classes do not escape untouched either Bott's blatant chip on his shoulder believing that the world owes him something, is well written and you can certainly see this character existing then as much as today unfortunately. The author makes the point subtly that it's not class that's makes people decent and honorable but an individual own moral compass. However despite this all being within the book its certainly isn't heavy handed or preachy in its tone or manner and this is only an under current within the book.
Another undercurrent that is also included is the place of women in universities and society. Both Trish and her friend Dottie attend Oxford University and are among some of the first woman to attend Ambrose College. This is used by the author to illustrate beautifully the changes in how women lived in this time of the suffragette. Again this isn't pushed down your throat but used as a tool to help give plausible narrative to the characters and to place the novel in the correct context of the 1920's.
This is a witty charming and entertaining murder mystery. The characters and the narrative are well constructed which capture perfectly the 1920' with all of its fun frivolity and tragedies following the War. The book is well paced allowing you to read the beautifully crafted scenes of the regatta and about the house guests at Bulawayo before the murder, so you can sympathies with the various characters. The whisper of romance within the book is gentle and not enough to put a male reader of in my opinion. I would definitely recommend it. I also think it stands alone as a novel and it wouldn't matter to the reader if they hadn't read any of the earlier novels in the series. That said reading them in order obviously helps you place the romance part in more context
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Kensington Publishing (3 Nov 2008)
Language English, other translations available
Currently on sale form Amazon for £6.29