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Styx and Stones by Carola Dunn is the seventh book in the Daisy Dalrymple series.
Daisy Dalrymple's sister, Lady Violet, is expecting her second child and her husband Lord John Frobisher asks Daisy to come and stay with them in Kent as someone has been sending him poison pen letters which could affect his happy marriage with a shocking secret from his past. Daisy is happy to go down to try to help find out who's sending the letter, taking her fiancé's daughter along with her. Soon enough Daisy finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation when a member of the community is murdered and the race is on to find the murderer before they strike again.
This is the second Daisy Dalrymple mystery I've read in recent weeks and whilst having thoroughly enjoyed the first one I read (Death at Wentwater Court) I didn't find myself overly enamoured with this story. I have read a few detective stories involving poison pen themes and this wasn't as interesting as those, e.g. Agatha Christie's The Moving Finger was far better in my opinion. There's no shortage of recipients of poison pen letters in the story and a plethora of suspects such as the rather strange vicar who seems to have lost his faith and his over-bearing wife, a brigadier who apparently beats his wife and likes a drink, various members of the local Women's Institute.
I enjoyed the parts of the story which referred to the age the story was set in, i.e. the 1920s. Some of the characters' values were quaint and rather sweet and some of them were downright old-fashion. For example: "In the old days, when a man was master of his household, no one would have dared to touch the post before the paterfamilias had gone through it. Things weren't what they used to be." These are the thoughts of the stuffy old brigadier when he finds the post has already been rifled through by other members of his household. Do you know anyone who still believes that the man of the house should have "first dibs" on the post? I actually do, which is quite amusing but also rather sad in a way!
Another amusing example is about two women where one of them states she wishes she had a car but couldn't afford a chauffeur, the other snaps that if she can afford to buy a car she can learn to drive it herself, the other then backtracks and says she can't afford a car anyway so the other snaps at her again telling her to get a bicycle instead! "Don't be so feeble" was the comment at the end of that conversation that made me chuckle to myself.
Can you remember not having the internet to send emails and having to send letters by actual post to people? I can, but can you remember a time where you couldn't send airmail to the USA? When Daisy is at the post office she looks at a sign on the wall about sending airmail to Paris and wonders when it would become commonplace to send airmail to America! When did we start calling it the USA? I grew up calling it America so the use of America instead of USA (or just US as some people now say) in the book made me somewhat nostalgic.
Styx and Stones is written in a manner which is easy to read and understand. There isn't a lot of character development for the "extras" in the story, possibly because there are so many of them. What little we know of Daisy's sister, for example, is that she's really nothing like Daisy and seems fairly oblivious to the world around her. I don't know if this was deliberate on the author's part but it seemed odd that someone supposedly as astute and intelligent as Daisy would have such a sister. Aside from little things like that the story flows well; progresses logically and all loose ends are tied up nicely and to the satisfaction of the reader.
I'm giving this book 3 out of 5 stars with somewhat of a recommendation to read to those who enjoy period crime novels. It wasn't a read that kept me on the edge of my seat and it definitely wasn't as good a read for me as other books in the series that I've read so far. I would point out here that the story is written in a way that you can read it as a standalone story; you don't need to have read the previous books in the series to get into this one.
Title: Styx and Stones
Author: Carola Dunn
Release date: 1999
Published by: Robinson, an imprint of Constable & Robinson
This is the third book in the Daisy Dalrymple series that I have borrow from the library. It is the seventh book in the series. I have unfortunately not been able to read some of the earlier books in the series as the library has them order so they are not available on loan at present.
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 Second World War. This provides a great backdrop for a series as some of the most of characters within the series have been influenced greatly by the events of the war and the subsequent influenza epidemic that killed thousands.
Daisy is an "Honorable" which for those of you who don't know Burke's Peerage (myself included) is a daughter of a viscount. Because of her fathers and brothers death Daisy despite being a member of the Aristocracy needs to work and talks herself into a magazine job. The Magazine 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 Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard 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 a widower with a young daughter Belinda and his mother 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.
About the book
This is set in the summer of 1923 Daisy is invited by her Brother in law Lord John to stay with him and Daisy's sister Violet. He desperately wants Daisy's help to find out who is sending him poison pen letters. The reason he has roped Daisy in is because Violet has told him all about Daisy's previous adventures solving murders. He doesn't want to involve the police if he can as he firstly doesn't want to upset Violet who is pregnant with finding about the letters and their contents. Secondly he is worried about his social position if the contents of the letters were known as not only is he the part of the local gentry but a magistrate to boot. Daisy is persuaded by Lord John to visit with Belinda and the story for Violet is to visit her sister and introduce Belinda to her nephew Derek who is the same age and for them to play together. So off daisy goes to the apparently cozy world of village life and WI to find out who the poison pen is but before long Daisy Stumbles on a dead body. Are the two things linked or not?
This is book initially calls for a little suspension of belief that Daisy's brother in law would confided in her about the poison pen letters and ask for her help without her letting on to her sister. Once you have accepted this then rest of the novel is great fun.
The plot twists and turns marvelously with plenty of red herrings about the identity of the poison pen. I personally didn't guess who it was and was surprised by who had written the letters and their motives for doing so. As the reader you follow Daisy's various mental jumps and leaps as to who the poison pen could be with great ease, as the logic to her thoughts is beautifully written and draws you into her way of viewing the various suspects.
The identity of the murder victim leaves you initially on tender hooks not only as to the who did it? But who has actually been killed because that is originally mistaken. This case of mistaken identity makes for great red herrings as to not only the identity of murder suspect but their motivation for killing the individual.
The backdrop of village life and the gossiping amongst the WI ladies had me chuckling away at times at the various hypocrisies that they ladies uttered. Though set in the 1920's the same narrow minded views and malicious tongues are still in evident in society today you only need to read some of the tabloids to see examples of it how very little changes at times. The village life of the 1920's is wonderfully described with the village store and post office as one of the hubs of village life and gossip. The images of people trying to listen to the telephone calls at the exchange or see who buys what seem to be wonderfully conjured by the author.
Dunn as in all the Daisy Dalrymple novels handles beautifully the class struggle. She pens in exquisite detail the judgments made by people of the various social classes on one another. The way the vicar's wife toadies up to Lady John is an absolute dream you find yourself despising her for her blatant fawning of the aristocracy. This coupled with her contempt for her fellow members of the WI makes her seem like a very petty and unpleasant individual which I personally found to be very great to read about and wonder what she would say and do next.
A woman's place within society continues to be a theme that is an under current to this novel as well as others in the series. This is wonderfully demonstrated by how people view the widow Mrs. LeBeau and have judged her for her discreet liaisons and the contents of her poison pen letters.
The relationships between the core characters in the series of Daisy, Alec and Belinda continue to develop. The development of the relationship between Daisy and Belinda is perhaps more of the focus within this book than that of Daisy's and Alec's relationship. It is wonderfully refreshing to have a positive image and a positive relationship written about between a child and a future step mother rather than it being one of pain and conflict. The attempts by both Belinda and Derek Daisy's nephew to decide how they should refer to the various adults should it be aunt and uncle yet, as Daisy and Alec are not married yet is both amusing and touchingly described.
Daisy herself continues to be the unflappable flapper and I have found myself liking her more and more as the I have read the various books. Her warm hearted nature and ability to trip over a dead body is just deliciously described and find yourself warming to her and encouraging her through her various trials and tribulations.
The flow and pace of the novel is pitched just right in my opinion as you get to meet various characters and get to know a bit about them and their personalities before the murder occurs. This gives you as the reader more information to help guess the identity of both the murderer and the poison pen.
The style of writing and the language used within the book is very in keeping with the 1920's period which adds in my opinion to the whole feel of the story.
I personally think the cozy world of the Daisy Dalrymple books would make a great Sunday evening program in the same genre of Miss Marple and Midsummer Murders as they are fully of rich wonderful detail that translates well to the small screen.
Another fabulous book in the Daisy Dalrymple series full of lots of witty observations and humor the humor is a dry humor rather than slapstick. The poison pen letters add further plot twists and the unveiling both the poison pen and the murderer are wonderfully described. The language and descriptions of people place and events transports you back in time to the 1920's post war with newly emancipated women and gossip ridden village life.
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation (Jun 2006)
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