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Death at Wentwater Court - Carola Dunn
Member Name: MALU
Death at Wentwater Court - Carola Dunn
Date: 15/12/12, updated on 15/12/12 (107 review reads)
Advantages: entertaining as a social study
Disadvantages: boring as a thriller
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.
Summary: a thriller set in the 1920s