After all the excitement of my 100th post and my very first guest reviewer,(thanks MHH!) it’s back to my weird selection of books. Easy to get hold of, but a strange selection of history (fiction and non fiction) general fiction (some of it literary) and a fair bit of murder (only fictional, don’t panic) and anything else which takes my fancy…
My latest murder is one of a series. I may have mentioned the books of Catriona McPherson before, but her second book in the Dandy Gilver Murder Mystery series has kept me occupied in the Festival which is in full swing hereabouts. So between being nice to people eager to discover local history and the details of the production of the King James Bible (400 years old this year) I’ve been solving a murder.
The mystery to be found in The Burry Man’s Day is not the toughest I’ve ever read of in a historical murder novel.
I think that this mystery is informative about the period just after the First World War, when social barriers had been challenged and women had won many more rights, even if customs in small Scottish towns lagged behind. McPherson lives in Scotland and may be more culturally aware than some other writers of historical mystery novels, despite their often impeccable research. I think that she has got the sense of life in a community just right, with the lively children, dubious drinkers, strict housewives and funeral practices. The headmaster and wife of the school are so well described that they would be in the running for the Mrs Proudie Prize (Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles)
Cue extra picture of Alan Rickman in the Barchester Chronicles with the fearsome Mrs Proudie, role model for Clergy Spouses everywhere.
Back to McPherson. The unexpected death of a well known local character in a very public setting sets off the hunt for a possible murderer, motive and method. The extra thing about this series of novels is the genuinely funny style. The hostess of the fete is called Buttercup by the leading character, much to her new husband’s bemusement. The same hostess has lived in America, from which she has acquired habits from the famous speakeasy’s need to hide alcohol quickly as well as suspicions of gangsters. This book is far more confident than its predecessor After the Armistice Ball. Dandy now enjoys detecting and is confident in her partner, which allows her to have a more realistic crisis of conscience at the significant moment. Despite its humour, this book makes some serious points about the damage done by the War.
Unusually for me, I worked out roughly what must have caused the events in the book quite early on. Despite my record of reading many murder mysteries, I often struggle to beat the detective to murderer, motive and method. This may be because the novel does not obey the rules concerning letting the reader having all the information in good time, or maybe because I’m just not good at puzzles. This book is so good that even if you crack the mystery early on, the process, the scenery and the characters are worth following. I have also enjoyed greatly Elizabeth Peters, Carola Dunn and Laurie King who write good historical murder mysteries, but I think that McPherson has a slight edge on style and humour. Well worth a read.