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When I noticed on Amazon a little while ago that some novels in the Daisy Dalrymple series were being re released I was really looking forward to reading some that my local library had missing from their catalogue as I had read all of theirs but there quite a few gaps.
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 meets 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 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.
About the book
This is the second book in the series so some of it the book is about further developing the characters of the central charters such as Daisy Alec and Daisy's friend Philip. Since the first book Death at Wentwater Court where Daisy met Alec they have being dating. This novel is centered on a country house that Daisy has gone to visit called Occles Hall. She has been invited by the owner Sir Reginald to write about the house and the dairy for one of her articles. The Lady of the house Lady Valeria is less than happy about this as she worries not only will Daisy working set a bad example to her daughter Bobbie by working the rich don't you know, but she worries that Daisy will write something vulgar about the hall and possible catch the eye of her son Sebastian. The murder in this book is not one that happens and is witness but is rather a horrid discovery of the body of Grace Moss a parlour maid. Her body is discovered in the Winter garden by Daisy and a gardener 6 months after everyone had thought she had run away with a traveling salesman. The mystery of who killed her is the focus of the novel.
This is a wonderfully written murder mystery in style of Agatha Christie. It is often what is referred to as a country house murder mystery so this book is probably not for those who like the gritty murder novels. These novels are very much a gentle murder mystery with a focus on clues and personalities of those involved. The style of writing is very much in keeping with the 1920's despite having been written in 1995. The author tries very hard and does succeed in my opinion to try keep the language used by the characters and the opinions they express to be in keeping with the 1920's all of which for me make the novel seem more enjoyable and full of charm and spark. I love the delightful use of words such as claptrap, blighter and barbaric bully they just conjure up a simple and elegant period and bring a simile to my face as I read.
The issue of class and how following the First World War that the whole class system was shaken up and is sensitively written in this novel. The book also draws lots of parallels with progress and how the aristocrats want things to stay the same this is evidenced by Lady Valeria attitude to the villagers she really is the ruling matriarch with an iron fist with the way she won't allow people to decorate their tithed homes they way they want and how she wants progress to stand still by not allowing a petrol pump in the village. Dunn writes exceedingly well here and you can see how some people are scared of change after the war and how they are trying to stop this tide of change. This contrasts well with Daisy's no nonsense attitude and how she inspires other characters to make huge leaps forward with their lives. This interplay of these strands of the story makes for several interesting red herrings as to who the murderer of Grace Moss is.
The budding romance between Daisy and Alec is evident here as they are a little unsure of each other and Dunn writes with a lovely soft touch as the romance moves forward. However as events move to the climatic ending the strong feelings that they have for each other and have being holding back burst straight on to the ages of the novel with a very touching scene between the two of them.
Also within this book is a homosexual relationship and given that this was still illegal in the 1920's Alec as a detective is supposed to help prosecute men for this. Rather than being preachy on either the fore or against homosexuality issue, Dunn actually pens a tender and mature relationship between the two men without giving into temptation to make the men effeminate or camp in the style of Noel coward or Oscar Wilde. The scenes where these issues are raised are penned beautifully and all you can think of is how you hope for the best for the two individuals against a lot of odds.
The matriarch of the family Lady Valeria is a wonderful stern society mama who would have many a man quaking in his boots with how she views society should be despite being a totally odious character. Dunn characterization of this character makes her believable and you can quite imagine how she really wouldn't be alone in her views of the world at the time.
The pace of this novel is beautiful timed I think as it there are a few chapters to help us to settle in to Occles Hall with Daisy and meet the family and the village so we have an understanding of the events that are about to unfold. The rest of the book really only happens over the course of about 4 or 5 days but into each of these days there are beautifully written sequences as Daisy and Alec put together the case and purse different suspects only to find them a dead end till the end.
The murder itself as it happened 6 months prior to Daisy's arrival at Occles hall is not really discussed in a nitty gritty way but we are entertained by how a coroners court would have occurred in the 1920's when the lord of the manor or in this case lady held sway. So rather than on focusing on clues from the body Daisy and Alec are left with trying to understand poor Graces movements and motivations and who would want her dead in a true detective style. This piecing together of clues is for me one of the most enjoyable parts of the book as it is like a picture in a jigsaw puzzle being gradually put together to give the overall picture.
This is a charming and entertaining country house murder mystery which is full of wit and some whimsy. There are some difficult issues raised in the book such as the class war following World War 1 and homosexuality but both of these are sensitively penned by Dunn and her style never feels lecturing merely that of social commentary against the back drop of the murder. I would recommend this book to fans of Agatha Christie and other country house murders. It is definitely a genteel murder mystery and the second in a great series in my opinion.
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Robinson; First Thus edition (27 Aug 2009)
On sale Amazon for around £4 or on the Amazon marketplace for around £2.70
This is the second of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries by Carola Dunn.
Once again we find the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple visiting a stately pile to write an article for the fictional 'Town & Country' magazine. This time, she is the guest of a school acquaintance, whose family own Occles Hall, a gloomy mansion in Cheshire. Daisy is rather unusual for her time - she's a daughter of a viscount, but has missed out on inheriting her own family's estate and is now trying to earn her own living as a writer. She hopes to one day become a novelist.
On arriving at Occles Hall, Daisy is met by a chilly reception from Lady Valeria, autocratic matriarch of the hall and village. She learns that Lady Valeria has made several enemies in the village by refusing to allow any modern touches.
Later on, Daisy goes to view the grounds of the house, including the walled winter garden. Whilst there, Daisy and the assistant gardener make a grisly discovery - the body of missing parlourmaid Grace Moss has been buried in the garden.
Once again, Inspector Alec Fletcher of the Yard is called in to investigate. As Daisy and Alec start to investigate the murder, Daisy finds herself developing romantic feelings for Alec, which throws up all sorts of questions of social positions. For example, Daisy is an aristocrat, but, despite his education, Alec is very much middle-class. Being a modern girl, Daisy doesn't consider this a problem, but she knows that society would struggle to accept them as a couple. This is one of the strengths of these novels - a murder mystery set against the changing social climate of the post World War I 1920s.
Dunn leads Daisy and Alec down several dead-end paths during their investigations, but once again Daisy draws to the correct conclusion using a combination of her intuition and people's natural wish to confide in her.
As with the previous novel (Death At Wentwater Court), the eventual outcome has something of a twist, with Daisy wanting to make sure that the right thing gets done in the end.