* Prices may differ from that shown
I received this book as a gift from someone who had a strong passion for murder mysteries such as Agatha Christie and he said that it's not as complicated story but has lots of thrills and excitement with unexpected twists.
It's the main character, Daisy Dalrymple, on the front cover, wrapped up for winter, ice skating on the frozen lake where her first mystery starts. The colours are not dull but feel cool and vintage to give it the Winter 1920s scene to it, which I believe that fits perfectly with the story.
Daisy Dalrymple arrives at Wentwater Court to write an article for Town and Country. She has chosen to take her own photographs to fit her article perfectly like a jigsaw. Everything goes smoothly during her first day since arriving at Wentwater. Until the next morning she goes skating with James and Fenella and they find the least favourite guest at Wentwater, Lord Stephan Ashwick, under the ice. After raising the alarm and taking a few photographs reveals that the victim di not fall through the ice by skating at dawn, it's been suggested it was an axe cut, which leads the suspicion to a murder... But the question is , who did it? Daisy teams up with Scotland Yard to solve the mystery on who did it and with a lot of haters, and everyone is on the list. Lord Stephan's death is not an easy case to solve, especially when there are unexpected twists and unpredictable surprises rising to complicate things more than needed.
---Where to buy---
This book was a gift but I know a few discounted book stores sell it on the 3 for £5 offer. If you can't find it in the offers you can always buy it at the RRP at £6.99 (which I believe is a reasonable price) from WH Smiths and Waterstones.
Let's go back in time, nearly one hundred years, to the 1920s to be precise. The country is still recovering from World War I. Society is changing whether people like it or not. Many young men have died in the trenches, many have returned badly wounded. Women are entering the work force, even members of the High Society. What a shame! How scandalous!
The Honourable Daisy Dalrymple's father, a Viscount, died in an influenza epidemic, her brother and her fiancé in the war. The title went to a cousin. She could stay with her mother but knowing that this would drive her mad she moves to London where she shares a flat with a photographer friend and works as a journalist for the Town & Country magazine. She has yet to meet a member of her circles who approves of that. Her insatiable curiosity and the fact that people confide in her without her having to prompt them means that this is the perfect job for her.
She gets an assignment for a series of articles on English country manor houses. Her title opens the doors for her; it's unlikely that the aristocratic owners she has to interview would allow a social nobody to cross their thresholds. When she arrives at Wentwater Court, she soon realises that something is amiss in the household. Lord Wentwater's second wife, beautiful, young Annabel, nearer to the age of her step-sons than of her husband, has become the centre of amorous attention from two wrong parties. One of these is Lord Stephen Astwick who's put pressure on one of the sons to be invited. He's physically attractive but everything you expect a 'character swine' (as the Germans say) to be. He's got a hold on Annabel but as she doesn't talk, nobody knows what it is. She doesn't even confide in her husband.
When one icy morning Astwick is found dead in a hole in a lake with his skates on, nobody mourns him. On the contrary, several members of the family are relieved. It's Daisy who when developing the photographs she's made of the lake notices that the hole was hacked into the ice. This turns the accidental death by drowning into a murder case. Enter Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher from Scotland Yard who's in the vicinity because several aristocratic ladies have been robbed of their jewellery. As his two sidekicks aren't available, he asks Daisy to write down in shorthand what the members of the Wentwater household have to say when interviewed by him. With this he doesn't follow the rules, but she's an outsider and therefore he thinks he can risk it. Thus Daisy's career as a 'helper' of the police starts. 'Helper' in quotation marks because she has no idea of the law and follows her instincts often being more a nuisance than an assistance. Fletcher is a gorgeous specimen of the male species but, alas, no aristocrat. Her friend asks her, "But Daisy darling, isn't he frightfully common? I mean, people one knows simply don't go into the police." Is there a future for them?
I hadn't come across the author Carola Dunn before, I bought The Daisy Dalrymple Omnibus containing four of the meanwhile twenty books on Amazon as a cheap offer (which doesn't exist any more). The books are sold under the label 'cosy'. I have nothing against cosy, on the contrary. I prefer it to gory any time. But I have everything against boring. Dunn follows the pattern Agatha Christie used in her novels: A small circle of people, no contact with the outside world so that the murderer can't be a chance intruder. No working of outside events - political, social, historical - into the plot. Several members have a strong motif, the attempt to find out who didn't only have a motif but also the opportunity to commit the crime constitutes the main body of the book. The story is told from Daisy's perspective. Who may have committed the crime? She goes through the members of the group and asks herself this question. When she's rehashed it for all of them, she starts again when some new facet comes up. And so on and so forth. There were moments when I lost my will to live. Well, not really, but I lost my interest in whodunit. In the end when the culprit is found, I only nodded (inwardly) and thought, "Aha. So it was this one and not that one. Who cares?"
What makes the series a success nevertheless - twenty books already! - is the creation of the High Society of the 1920s to which Daisy belongs and in which she moves. She's at once an insider and an outsider. The insider Daisy is a flapper. (Wikipedia): "Flappers were a "new breed" of young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behaviour. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, treating sex in a casual manner, smoking, driving automobiles and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms." Not all these characteristics are true for Daisy but she fits in well. She uses the lingo, everything is 'topping' or 'spiffing'. She says good-bye with "Toodle-oo" and "Pip-pip". She has no probs conversing with inane young noblemen who address everyone as 'old bean'. But as a working woman and above all an intelligent one she's also an outsider who sees her chums with a certain distance.
I have no idea if Ms Dunn has done her homework well and if she draws an accurate picture of the English High Society between the wars. What she writes is entertaining and that is what counts in the end, isn't it? To come to a conclusion: As a thriller Death at Wentwater Court isn't spiffing, as an entertaining read it's OK. I'd like to give it 3 1/2 stars. As this isn't possible and Christmas is near when everyone should be good, I've decided to give it four.
Having recently spent a week in sunny Spain I took away half a dozen books with me hoping to get lots of reading done by the pool whilst working on my tan. In reality I didn't even manage to finish two books during the holiday as we ended up meeting so many lovely people and spent more time chatting with them than being able to fully concentrate on a novel.
Death at Wentwater Court was one of the books I started whilst on holiday and continued on the flight home, finishing once I got home. I had read a Carola Dunn book before with the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple in the main role and had enjoyed it enough to pick up Death at Wentwater Court at a local charity shop for £1 not long ago. I hadn't realised that Death at Wentwater Court was actually the first in the Daisy Dalrymple series and I had to remember to put certain knowledge about the character from the latter book out of my mind.
25 year old Honourable Daisy Dalrymple is making a living for herself as a series writer for the respected Town and Country magazine and as such is invited to Wentwater Court to write an article about the old property in early January of 1923. Luckily for her she is acquainted with the Earl of Wentwater's eldest son James, daughter Marjorie and sister Lady Josephine, which helped her get her foot in the door to write the article. Daisy arrives at Wentwater Court claiming her photographer is unwell so she will have to take all the photos herself. When one of the members of the party is found drowned under the ice it seems to have been an accident whilst they were out skating but Daisy suspects foul play and it's not long before Scotland Yard is called in and Daisy's helping with their enquiries having taken photos at the scene when the body was discovered. With so many suspects available, how can they possibly find out what actually happened?
I found myself engrossed in the book from quite early on. We see how Daisy is years ahead of her time, wanting to be independent even though she's titled and happy to make a career for herself even if it means putting up with the disdain of others. She is a likeable character from the start with no real character flaws that one could speak of.
Daisy knows she was only able to get into Wentwater Court for her story because she is acquainted with several members of the household but does not take any further advantage of that fact. Also present are Daisy's late brother's best friend, the bumbling Philip Petrie with his sister, Fenella, who is engaged to James and Lord Stephen Astwick who's a real cad and seems to have some sort of past relationship with Lord Wentwater's beautiful new wife Annabel who is only a few years older than her oldest stepson. Put into the mix James and Marjorie's younger brothers Wilfred and Geoffrey along with Lady Josephine's husband and we have an abundance of suspects. It was easy to guess from quite early on who was going to be killed off and when it does happen one doesn't really feel sorry for the character as it's written in such a way that one feels that they had it coming.
Dunn has written the story so the deductions made by Daisy seem quite likely as well as those made by Chief Inspector Alex Fletcher (who incidentallybecomes a recurring character in future books in the series) and they are made quite logically. The relationships between the main characters are not gone into in any great depth but covered well enough to make the story flow naturally.
Dunn is descriptive enough during the book about Wentwater Court that you can picture the stately home as well as the clothing of the characters and mannerisms but not overly descriptive that she detracts from the actual story. One can almost feel transported back to the 1920s in the book and it was such an engrossing read that I was rather sad when I got to the end of the book. It was also a surprise for me when the book ended at page 247 as the last page is actually page 266 - from page 251 onwards is a preview of the next book in the series - The Winter Garden Mystery (which I'm now in the process of ordering)!
Having thoroughly enjoyed Death at Wentwater Court and the other Daisy Dalrymple mystery I've read I will certainly be looking up more books in the series and am happy to rate this book with 5 stars.
Publishers Weekly said of Death at Wentwater Court: "Appropriate historical detail and witty dialogue are the finishing touches of this engaging 1920s period piece."
I'll leave you with the dedication at the front of the book which pretty much sums up much of the atmosphere of the book for me "To Mum, who remembers Liberty bodices and woolly combies."
A BIT ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carola Dunn was born in 1946 in the UK and started out by writing historical romances then moved onto crime fiction. As well as the Daisy Dalrymple series Dunn has written a couple of books set in Cornwall in the 1960s. Dunn now lives in Oregon, USA.
Title: Death at Wentwater Court
Author: Carola Dunn
Publishers: Constable & Robinson Ltd (www.constablerobinson.com)
First published: 1994
Cover price (on my 2009 edition): £6.99
OTHER BOOKS IN THE DAISY DALRYMPLE SERIES
Death at Wentwater Court (1994)
The Winter Garden Mystery (1995)
Requiem for a Mezzo (1996)
Murder on The Flying Scotsman (1997)
Damsel in Distress (1997)
Dead in The Water (1999)
Styx and Stones (1999)
Rattle his Bones (2000)
To Davy Jones Below (2001)
The Case of the Murdered Muckraker (2002)
Mistletoe and Murder (2002)
Die Laughing (2003)
A Mourning Wedding (2004)
Fall of a Philanderer (2005)
Gunpowder Plot (2006)
The Bloody Tower (2007)
Black Ship (2008)
Sheer Folly (2009)
Anthem for Doomed Youth (2011)
This is the first of the Daisy Dalrymple Mystery series by Carola Dunn.
The novel is set in the 1920s and Daisy is one of a new breed of young women trying to make their own way in the world. Daisy is, in fact, an 'Honourable' - the daughter of a viscount. Unfortunately, her elder brother Gervaise was killed on active service during World War I and as her father is dead, the estate has passed to Daisy's cousin as girls didn't inherit estates at this time. As the novel progresses we find out that Daisy also has a strained relationship with her mother, the dowager vicountess - who thinks Daisy should either marry and settle down or live a life appropriate to her heritage. It also turns out that Daisy's fiancé was killed in the trenches whilst driving an ambulance. He was a conscientious objector, which many people disapproved of - it was seen as unpatriotic and unmanly not to want to fight for your country.
As the novel begins, we find Daisy on her way to Wentwater Court, where she is to photograph and write an article about the country manor for 'Town & Country' magazine, a sort of Country Living meets Harpers & Queen type publication. This is Daisy's first assignment and understandably, she's anxious not to make a mess of it.
Daisy spends a few days getting to know the manor and enjoying the company of the other guests. These include the Honourable Phillip Petrie, a contemporary of Daisy's elder brother, who has a long held wish to marry Daisy, despite the fact that she has repeatedly told him she's not interested in him. Another of the guests is Lord Stephen Astwick, who has a reputation as a terrible cad, or ladies man.
One morning, Lord Stephen is missed at breakfast and is later discovered face down in the lake. At first, it's thought that he'd simply drowned after falling through a thin patch of ice while skating on the lake. However, Daisy takes some photographs of the scene and when developing them notices axe marks in the ice - it looks as though foul play is involved!
Enter Inspector Alex Fletcher, all the way from London's Scotland Yard. Fletcher sets to investigating the death, with Daisy becoming heavily involved in the investigation. Fletcher tells her to keep out of it several times, but Daisy can't help being drawn in as the other guests seem to want to confide in her and Daisy feels honour-bound to share her discoveries with the Inspector.
As the story progresses, the mystery twists and turns until we discover the final outcome - which isn't necessarily what you might think!